"Star Trek" beamed itself up to the top of the box office, earning $76.5 million in its opening weekend.
Paramount Pictures had estimated that the movie would make about $50 million for the weekend, but figured that strong reviews helped carry it to the bigger opening.
Director J.J. Abrams' reboot of the beloved sci-fi franchise made $72.5 million from Friday through Sunday, plus $4 million just in pre-midnight screenings Thursday, the studio said Saturday. That cumulative figure includes a record $8.2 million in IMAX showings.
"Star Trek," which reveals the back stories of Capt. Kirk, Mr. Spock and the rest of the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, is an unusual blockbuster that pleased critics, too, receiving 96 percent positive reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site.
"Last year 'The Dark Knight' and 'Iron Man' both were embraced by critics as incredible filmmaking as well as big action-adventure movies. This one has been even better reviewed," said Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore. "You look at the level of critical response and the audience reaction, we definitely feel like the movie is set to play into Memorial Day and into the summer."
Moore said he expected the movie, which had a $140 million budget, should gross over $200 million total this summer, even with competition like "Terminator: Salvation" coming on May 21 and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" arriving in theaters July 15.
Abrams got it right, he said, by appealing to both hardcore "Star Trek" fans as well as moviegoers who may not have been familiar with the 1960s television series and the many movies and TV spin-offs it spawned. It stars Chris Pine as Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock, and features an appearance by Leonard Nimoy as an older version of the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock.
"It just shows you how talented he is and what a great movie he made," Moore said.
"Star Trek" also beat the $6.3 million record "The Dark Knight" set in its opening weekend on IMAX screens last year.
"The DNA of this movie and the DNA of the 'Star Trek' franchise work perfectly together and are very much a complement to what IMAX has accomplished," said Greg Foster, chairman and president of IMAX Filmed Entertainment. "IMAX was a company that had a sort of older-school, older-fashioned approach to things and we hipped it up and reinvented ourselves, if you will. That's precisely what J.J. Abrams and Paramount did with 'Star Trek.'"
The fact that the "Star Trek" haul improved from $26.8 million on Friday to $27.4 million on Saturday is a good sign, said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com.
"Sometimes you will see a movie drop big-time," Dergarabedian said. "What this 'Star Trek' is going to have is legs, a rare commodity in this world where every week there's a new blockbuster."
As expected, last week's top film, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," came in at No. 2 with $27 million. The prequel to the "X-Men" franchise, starring Hugh Jackman as the mutant who slices and dices his enemies with his metal claws, has made nearly $129.6 million in two weeks.
"It's the same weekend drop as ('X-Men: The Last Stand'), the last one. That tends to be what fan-based movies do," said Chris Aronson, senior vice president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox. "To have $130 million in the first 10 days is sensational. We think we withstood the attack of 'Star Trek,' if you will, and will settle into a long, successful run."
The week's other new wide release, the stoner comedy "Next Day Air," came in at sixth place with $4 million.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Star Trek," $72.5 million.
2. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," $27 million.
3. "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," $10.45 million.
4. "Obsessed," $6.6 million.
5. "17 Again," $4.4 million.
6. "Next Day Air," $4 million.
7. "The Soloist," $3.6 million.
8. "Monsters vs. Aliens," $3.4 million.
9. "Earth," $2.5 million.
10. "Hannah Montana: The Movie," $2.4 million.