The eighth and final installment of the phenomenal "Harry Potter" franchise lived up to its hype and then some on its global opening weekend.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" opened to the biggest three-day weekend of all time, grossing $476 million globally, according to studio estimates.
"Potter's" $168.6 million opening in the U.S. and Canada blew the tights off of 2008's "The Dark Knight," which opened to $158.4 million.
Internationally, the film's $307 million start also far surpassed the $260.4 million mark set earlier in the summer by Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
Globally, the $476 million performance beat out 2009's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" which stared to $394 million.
"Everybody expected this movie to be big because the tracking was so huge," conceded Dan Fellman, distribution chief for Warner Bros., who has helped oversee the distribution of all eight "Potter" movies over the last decade. "But nobody could project just how big big was until we got there. Once those midnight numbers came in, all bets were off."
Competitors agreed. "Everybody knew it would be big, but nobody knew it would be this big," summed up Dave Hollis, executive VP of sales and distribution for Disney.
Here's how the top 10 finished. Report continues below chart:
Indeed, "Potter's" $43.5 million start in the wee hours Friday morning broke the all-time 12 a.m. mark, and set the record-breaking course.
Playing at a whopping 4,375 engagements in the U.S. and Canada, the film scored the best first day ever grossing $92.1 million Friday.
"Potter 8" also generated the IMAX chain's best three-day start, with $15.5 million in tickets sold at 274 locations.
Advance ticket sales were huge: ticket retailer Fandango said it sold 19 percent of the movie's North American tickets, its biggest share for any movie in the Comcast-owned company's 11-year history.
Audience feedback was about as good as it gets, with survey firm Cinemascore giving the movie an A grade. Critics liked it, too, with Rotten Tomatoes aggregating the reviews at 97 percent fresh.
As for the expensive 3D conversion, well, that didn't really seem to help, with only 43 percent of the movie's revenue being generated by premium 3D ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada.
But it hardly matters. The eighth "Potter" movie now appears poised to do what no other "Harry Potter" film has — that is, gross more than $1 billion worldwide (although, most of the films have come close).
One must ask, with the series only gaining commercial momentum, can source-book author J.K. Rowling really stop writing these novels (even if the star of the show, erstwhile boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe, is 22)?
"That's up to her," Fellman said, before adding, "Personally, I'd love to see it."
While "Potter" hogged the spotlight, a few other events of note occurred at the weekend box office.
With the eighth "Potter" movie featuring the series' darkest tone, Disney tried to counter-program the weekend with a $30 million John Lasseter-produced remake of "Winnie the Pooh" featuring the voices of John Cleese and Craig Ferguson.
The film managed to exceed its soft pre-release forecasts with $8 million, but otherwise couldn't be heard outside the noise of the "Potter" hurricane.
Meanwhile, in second place, Paramount's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" became the first film of 2011 to cross the $300 mark domestically, grossing $21.3 million in its third weekend (a week-to-week drop of around 55 percent).
Warner/New Line comedy "Horrible Bosses" dropped only 38 percent in its second weekend to $17.6 million and finished in third place.
For Warner, the performance of the final "Potter" mitigates losses on the expensive "Green Lantern," which — at a $1.3 million take this weekend — has done pretty much all it'll ever do domestically, and has petered out at $112.7 million.
Also, "Midnight in Paris" became Woody Allen's best-grossing domestic film ever, taking in another $1.8 million this weekend to reach a nine-week total of $41.6 million. (His previous best was 2006's "Hannah and Her Sisters," which made $40.1 million.)
Overall, thanks to "Potter," the box office was up around 47 percent from the same weekend last summer.