Cinema's perfect storm rolled across North America and lived up months of hype as The Dark Knight tore up the record books with an all-time high $155.3m North American three-day opening weekend that consigned Spider-Man 3's $151.1m May 2007 mark to history.

Warner Bros' hugely anticipated $185m sequel to the 2005 release Batman Begins burst on to the scene with relish on Friday and set a new opening day record of $67.85m, heaping further frustration on Sony to eclipse Spider-Man 3's former record of $59.8m. Approximately $18m of The Dark Knight's first day gross came from record midnight screenings, setting another record.

IMAX enjoyed a significant role in proceedings, too. Director Christopher Nolan shot several sequences with the large screen format in mind and, once again, The Dark Knight's $6.2m beat Spider-Man 3's previous $4.7m record.

If Sony chiefs can take anything from this (apart from a renewed desire to get Spider-Man 4 under way) they will cling on to the fact that their film most likely retains the attendance record for a three-day opening weekend. Based on today's average ticket price of $7.08, The Dark Knight is believed to have sold in the region of 21.94m tickets. Spider-Man 3 is believed to have attracted 21.96m film-goers based on the $6.88 average ticket price in 2007.

But this is mere frills. The thrills belong to The Dark Knight, which owes much of its sensational initial success to the film-goers' ongoing belief that the decades-old DC Comics character is in safe hands with director Christopher Nolan and his core cast of Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.

The addition of the late Heath Ledger, whose performance as The Joker has inspired more buzz than any other this year, as well as Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal only served to bolster the film's commercial prospects. High gas prices are helping the summer box office too and Warner Bros chiefs can expect The Dark Knight to cross $200m by the end of the week.

Universal's Broadway musical adaptation Mamma Mia! was a perfect counter programmer and launched in second place on $27.6m. The film stars Amanda Seyfried, Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgaard and Colin Firth.

Fox's animated adventure Space Chimps from Vanguard Animation debuted in place on $7.4m. At a time when film-goers couldn't get enough of Batman and The Joker, Sony's leftfield tip of the hat to the superhero genre, Hancock, fell one place to third on $14m for $191.5m after three weekends and Universal's Hellboy II: The Golden Army tumbled four spots from the top to rank fifth on $56.4m after two.

Next weekend's wide releases are: Fox's sci-fi thriller The X Files: I Want To Believe with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and Sony's comedy Step Brothers starring Will Ferrell and John C Reilly.

Estimated Top 10 North America Jul 18-20, 2008
Film (Dist)/Int'l dist/Est wkd gross/Est total to date

1 (-) The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) WBPI $155.3m -
2 (-) Mamma Mia! (Universal) UPI $27.6m -
3 (2) Hancock (Sony) SPRI $14m $191.5m
4 (3) Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (New Line) NLI $11.9m $43.1m
5 (1) Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Universal) UPI $10m $56.4m
6 (4) Wall-E (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $9.8m $182.5m
7 (-) Space Chimps (Fox) Various $7.4m -
8 (5) Wanted (Universal) UPI $5.1m $123.3m
9 (6) Get Smart (Warner Bros) WBPI $4.1m $119.6m
10 (8) Kung Fu Panda (Paramount) PPI $1.8m $206.5m