Scott Bowles, USA TODAY
James Bond may be 50, but he still knows how to shake up the box office.
Skyfall, the 23rd installment of a film franchise that has been spying theaters since Dr. No hit screens in 1962, opened to a franchise record $87.8 million, according to studio estimates from Hollywood.com
Riding strong reviews from critics and fans, Skyfall shattered the record set in 2008 by Quantum of Solace, which opened to $68 million.
Already, the $200 million film has racked up more than $346 million worldwide, and its U.S. debut all but ensures the film will eclipse 2006's Casino Royale as the highest-grossing Bond film worldwide. That movie did $594 million worldwide.
Skyfall's opening goes "a long way in determining the relevance of James Bond after a four-year absence," says David Mumpower, analyst for Boxofficeprophets.com. He says the opening "removed all doubt about the drawing power of 007."
Reviewers were sold. Skyfall garnered some of the best reviews of any film in 2012, earning a thumbs-up from 92% of critics, says survey site Rottentomatoes.com.
Audiences were nearly as pleased, as 91% of moviegoers liked the Sam Mendes film, according to the site.
The movie's critical and commercial reception will help invigorate the franchise, which took a hit with Solace. Though the movie did big numbers, it was pummeled by critics.
"It was imperative that Skyfall be an international blockbuster," Mumpower says. "Despite the global box office, the perception of Quantum of Solace was that it was a huge step backward."
The Disney cartoon Wreck-It Ralph was second with $33.1 million, followed by Denzel Washington's Flight with $15.1 million. The political thriller Argo took fourth with $6.8 million, while Taken 2 rounded out the top 5 with $4 million.
The only other major newcomer, Steven Spielberg's biopic Lincoln, opened strongly on 11 screens, taking in $900,000. It opens nationwide Friday.
While Skyfall's debut eclipsed projections, no one doubted a No. 1 opening. The film accounted for more than 65% of ticket sales for Fandango, the online ticket retailer says.
Much of the spy fever was fueled by singer Adele, Fandango says. According to the firm's poll of 1,000 moviegoers, 54% of respondents said her single, Skyfall, increased their interest and awareness of the film, which stars Daniel Craig.
Next on Fandango's list: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2, which opens Friday and is accounting for 17% of online sales.