Summit Entertainment's Twilight exceeded grand expectations to deliver the biggest pound-for-pound launch of the year with an estimated $70.6m three-day debut that will instill confidence in an independent sector rattled by the financial crisis and the renewed prospect of an actors strike.

Tween power turned out en masse for Catherine Hardwicke's vampire romance to produce the biggest opening of all time for a film directed by a woman, outstripping the $41.2m launch ten years ago of Mimi Leder's Deep Impact. According to exit polls 75% of audiences were female while a surprisingly high 45% were aged 45 and above.

The adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's bestseller starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson averaged $20,636 from 3,419 theatres and delivered the fourth biggest November debut and the fourth biggest launch weekend of the year. Heading into the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend Twilight, which officially cost $37.5m to produce, could overtake $125m by the ten-day mark.

Exceptional statistics like these put Summit firmly on the map as a major new player and should consign to history its faltering start in domestic distribution one year ago, when it released the thriller P2.

More significantly, company founders Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger and production chief Erik Feig, who was instrumental in bringing in the property after Paramount's MTV Films division let it go in 2006, own the hottest youth oriented franchise in Hollywood behind Harry Potter. On Saturday Summit confirmed it had greenlit New Moon, the second episode in Meyer's' bestselling series of books.

Sony/MGM's James Bond saga Quantum Of Solace, the North American champion last weekend and still the number one overseas release, finished second after dropping 59% on $27.4m for $109.5m in its second weekend and has amassed a global tally of $418m. The film is tracking ahead of Casino Royale, which had accumulated $94m after ten days.

Buena Vista's Bolt, a 3D animated family adventure from Walt Disney Animation Studios, opened below expectations in third place, a whisker behind Bond on $27m. The film earned excellent reviews and should prosper through strong word of mouth in the coming weeks.

DreamWorks Animations' Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa fell two places to fourth on $16m for $137.4m after three weekends. Universal's comedy Role Models and drama Changeling held well in fifth and sixth places on $48m after three and $31.6m after five, respectively.

Miramax's Holocaust drama The Boy In The Striped Pajamas expanded into 406 theatres in its third weekend and climbed ten placed to number nine as a $1.7m haul raised the tally to $2.7m. Fox Searchlight's adventure romance Slumdog Millionaire vaulted 13 places to number 11 and added $994,000 for $1.6m in its second weekend.

Next weekend's wide releases are Fox's epic romantic adventure Australia from Baz Luhrmann starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman and Lionsgate's action sequel Transporter 3 with Jason Statham.

Estimated Top 10 North America Nov 21-23, 2008
Film (Dist)/Int'l dist/Est wkd gross/Est total to date

1 (-) Twilight (Summit Ent) Summit Int'l $70.6m -
2 (1) Quantum Of Solace (Sony/MGM) SPRI $27.4m $109.5m
3 (-) Bolt (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $27m -
4 (2) Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (DreamWorks-Paramount) PPI $16m $137.4m
5 (3) Role Models (Universal) UPI $7.2m $48m
6 (5) Changeling (Universal) UPI $2.6m $31.6m
7 (4) High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $2m $86.8m
8 (6) Zack And Miri Make A Porno (TWC) TWC Int'l $1.7m $29.4m
9 (19) The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (Miramax) WDSMPI $1.7m $2.7m
10 (8) The Secret Life Of Bees (Fox Searchlight) Fox Int'l $1.3m $35.6m