By contrast New Line's The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring opened in December 2001 on $47.2m, The Two Towers launched a year later on $62m and The Return Of The King opened in December 2003 on $72.6m. The Chronicle Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe launched in December 2005 on $65.6m.
The Golden Compass dominated the international charts courtesy of a solid $55m gross and had been expected to open in the $30m range domestically. All eyes will now turn to the crucial second weekend as the holiday season approaches and the market determines the appeal of the studio's potential franchise.
Chris Weitz directed the Philip Pullman adaptation about a young girl who confronts a sinister empire. Newcomer Dakota Blue Richards alongside Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.
The $81m worldwide launch means The Golden Compass should cross $100m within days. While a screenplay has been completed for the second episode in this potential trilogy, studio chiefs will await further proof of its commercial viability before they greenlight the next adventure.
New Line's head of worldwide distribution and marketing Rolf Mittweg said the film drew mostly family crowds, pre-teens and teens and couples.
Buena Vista's Enchanted ranked second and is bearing down on $100m after a $10m haul raised the tally to $83.9m.
No Country For Old Men, release through Miramax in North America, climbed two places to eighth on $4.2m to $28.9m.
Focus Features got its major Oscar hopeful Atonement starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Romola Garai off to a strong start. The film opened in limited release and took $816,883 from 32 sites.
Atonement ranked number one in most of its art house venues and placed second or third in more commercial venues.
Fox Searchlight also scored a strong limited opening for its acclaimed comedy Juno which took $531,000 on just seven screens for a terrific $60,000 screen average.
Guy Ritchie's Revolver staring Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Vincent Pastore and Andre Benjamin grossed $41,670 from 18 screens through Samuel Goldwyn Films and Destination Films.
Estimated Top 10 North America Dec 7-9, 2007
Film (Dist)/Int'l dist/Est wkd gross/Est total to date
1 (-) The Golden Compass (New Line) NLI $26.1m -
2 (1) Enchanted (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $10.7m $83.9m
3 (2) This Christmas (Screen Gems) SPRI $5m $42.8m
4 (6) Fred Claus (Warner Bros) WBPI $4.7m $65.6m
5 (3) Beowulf (Paramount) WBPI $4.4m $75.9m
6 (8) No Country For Old Men (Miramax) Paramount Vantage Int'l $4.2m $28.9m
7 (7) August Rush (Warner Bros) WBPI $3.52m $25.1m
8 (5) Hitman (Fox) Fox Int'l/Europa $5.8m $3.48m $35.8m
9 (4) Awake (MGM) TWC $3.3m $10.7m
10 (9) Bee Movie (DreamWorks-Paramount) PPI $2.6m $121m