Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds grossed $65.1m worldwide as the film scored record number one launches for the director in North America and overseas.

Domestically the World War Two fantasy bought the beleaguered Weinstein Company valuable time as it stormed to the top on an estimated $37.6m. Universal holds international rights and reported $27.5m from 22 territories through UPI.

North American box office climbed for the third weekend in a row as revenues finished 27% ahead of the same period last year, putting the summer on course to beat 2008’s $4.2bn seasonal mark by a fraction, with two weekends to go before the official start of autumn.

Inglourious Basterds beat Tarantino’s previous best domestic debut of $25.1m set by Kill Bill Vol 2 in April 2004. So far only one of his films, Pulp Fiction, has crossed $100m.

Brad Pitt’s name will have helped to draw in the crowds, although critics have heaped praise on Christoph Waltz’s performance in the bigger role of SS Colonel Hans Landa, which earned him the Cannes prize for best actor following the film’s world premiere on the Croisette. Diane Kruger and Melanie Laurent also enjoy key roles.

  • In the second weekend, TriStar’s acclaimed sci-fi allegory District 9dropped 49.4% to number two on $18.9m for $73.5m, and Warner Bros’ adopted New Line romance The Time Traveler’s Wifefell one place to number four on $10m for $37.4m.
  • Warner Bros’ Shorts, a children’s adventure from Tarantino’s pal Robert Rodriguez (the pair collaborated on the 2007 double-bill Grindhouse), opened in sixth place on $6.6m, and the now defunct Fox Atomic’s comedy Post Grad scraped in at number ten on $2.8m through 20th Century Fox.

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra in third stands at $120.5m and Julie & Julia ranks fifth on $59.3m. Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince ranks eighth and has amassed $290.3m after six weekends. Within the next few days it will overtake Order Of The Phoenix’s $292m final score to become the second highest domestic release in the franchise.

Another big story of the weekend centred on a series of screenings that didn’t earn a penny. Fox’s global Avatar Day, a canny marketing ploy designed to whip up enthusiasm for the December 18 launch of Jim Cameron’s 3D sci-fi adventure Avatar, took over 101 North American IMAX screens and 238 international 3D venues to show 16 minutes of footage.

Fox gave out tickets in a lottery and said exhibitors did not charge fees. The studio did not hand out attendance figures as this was a non-revenue event, although it is believed that roughly 100,000 turned out to see the footage.

On Friday Fox announced its trailer had become the most watched ever on Apple’s website, registering more than four million streams in its first day.

Next weekend’s widest releases are two horror films in the shape of Warner Bros’ The Final Destination and Dimension Films’ Halloween 2, in what could be another success for the Weinstein stable. Focus Features launches Ang Lee’s lighthearted drama Taking Woodstock.

Estimated Top 10 North America August 21-23, 2009
Film (Dist)/Est wkd gross/Est total to date

1 (-) Inglourious Basterds (TWC) UPI $37.6m –

2 (1) District 9 (TriStar) QED Int’l/SPRI $18.9m $73.5m

3 (2) G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (Paramount) PPI $12.5m $120.5m

4 (3) The Time Traveler’s Wife (Warner Bros) NLI/WBPI $10m $37.4m

5 (4) Julie & Julia (Sony) SPRI $9m $59.3m

6 (-) Shorts (Warner bros) WBPI $6.6m —

7 (5) G-Force (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $4.2m $107.3m

8 (7) Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (Warner Bros) WBPI $3.5m $290.3m

9 (8) The Ugly Truth (Sony) SPRI $2.9m $82.9m

10 (-) Post Grad (Fox) Fox Int’l $2.8m –