Roberto Benigni has smashed all previous box office records in Italy with his fairytale Pinocchio which earned a massive $6.9m (Euros 7,021,422) on its opening weekend, according to Cinetel which monitors 70% of the country's screens.

With Cinetel monitoring only 627 of the 940 screens on which Pinocchio was released, total box office figures are still unavailable - the final tally is expected to be close to $8.9m (Euros 9m).

Pinocchio's ground-breaking opening record is no real surprise: the success of the film, which at Euros 40m is Italy's most expensive production ever, had been virtually guaranteed ever since the country's most popular star announced his project in July 2000 and the film soon became the most talked about Italian picture in recent history.

An extremely savvy marketing campaign led by distributor Medusa and Benigni, whose company Melampo Cinematografica produced the film, further boosted anticipation and buzz by denying millions of fans any public or TV viewings of the director and star since February in the hope that the Italian public would suffer from Benigni-withdrawal symptoms and flock to cinemas in droves.

On Friday, Pinocchio opened on 940 prints, roughly one-third of the country's screens - making it the widest-ever release for any film in Italy. The previous record was held by Lord Of The Rings which opened on around 700 prints on January 18th, 2002. Until this weekend, the Tolkien fantasy also held the best-ever opening record, grossing Euros 5,859,000 - again for Medusa.

Silvio Berlusconi's distribution outfit now hopes the lucrative mix of Benigni and Pinocchio will help it beat the Oscar-winning director's last directorial effort, Life Is Beautiful, which became Italy's second highest-grossing film ever after Titanic, earning a huge Euros 31.23m. Titanic itself earned Euros 42m.

In the meantime, Benigni is expected to travel to the US to help drum up publicity for Miramax's US release of the picture on December 25th.