By Chris Michaud and Lisa Richwine
(Reuters) - James Bond can don the tuxedo and break out the Dom Perignon after the super spy returned to theaters in record fashion at the weekend, blowing away box office rivals with $87.8 million in ticket sales for the U.S. and Canadian debut of new movie "Skyfall" for the biggest opening in the franchise's history.
The best North American opening for the 50-year-old Bond franchise adds to a strong tally of $428.6 million for "Skyfall" overseas. Globally, the movie starring Daniel Craig as 007 has now earned $518.6 million since first hitting international theaters on October 26, distributor Sony Pictures said.
"Skyfall" handily beat Walt Disney Co animated movie "Wreck-It Ralph," the story of a video game character who destroys everything in his path. The family film that topped last week's charts grabbed $33.1 million from Friday through Sunday and slipped to second place.
Denzel Washington drama "Flight," about an airline captain who saves a plane from crashing, pulled in $15.1 million to finish third.
Bond's allure proved unbeatable in "Skyfall," the third movie starring Craig and the first in four years. The last Bond film, "Quantum of Solace" in 2008, opened with a then-record $68 million at North American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters.
"We've always been very bullish about the film, but I don't think anyone expected the kind of stunning numbers that we've seen," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Corp's Sony Pictures studio.
"How many pictures in just over two weeks have earned more than half a billion already?" he told Reuters.
"We've seen huge openings in every country that it's opened in. It's going to be one for the history books," Bruer added.
In the new movie, Judi Dench returns as Bond's supervisor, "M." Bond travels between Istanbul, Shanghai and London as his loyalty to M is tested, while MI6 comes under attack from an unknown threat. Javier Bardem plays the villain Bond must stop.
Bond's return has been hailed by the critics as a triumph for the 23-film franchise after a tepid response to "Quantum of Solace." Ninety-two percent of "Skyfall" reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website were positive, and audiences polled by CinemaScore awarded the film an "A" grade. The film has already exceeded the "Quantum" lifetime box office total.
The $200 million movie was produced by MGM, Sony and Eon Productions. Its release comes 50 years after the franchise premiered with "Dr. No" in 1962, and the producers highlighted the anniversary in the film's marketing. The 22 previous Bond films have grossed $5 billion at box offices over five decades.
"Skyfall" was the only major new nationwide release this weekend. Steven Spielberg's historical drama "Lincoln" opened in 11 theaters with sales of $900,000, or $81,818 per theater on average. The movie which stars Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president expands to 1,500 locations next Friday.
Rounding out the top five, Ben Affleck drama "Argo," about the rescue of U.S. diplomats from Iran in 1979, finished in fourth place with $6.7 million. In fifth place, Liam Neeson hostage thriller "Taken 2" grabbed $4.0 million.
Sony Corp's movie studio released "Skyfall." "Flight" was distributed by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. "Lincoln" was produced by Dreamworks and released by Disney. Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros. studio released "Argo." "Taken 2" was distributed by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)
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