UPDATE 3-'Harry Potter' smashes 'Spider-Man' records
* Latest Potter earns $159.7 million in North America
* Foreign sales reach $237 million
* New film breaks records set by "Spider-Man 3"
(Recasts; adds other movies)
LOS ANGELES, July 19 (Reuters) - Harry Potter cast a spell over moviegoers worldwide as the sixth entry in the fantasy franchise set a new opening record of $396.7 million, a clear sign that the lucrative franchise has lost none of its magic.
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" earned $159.7 million in the United States and Canada, the sixth-biggest opening for a five-day period, distributor Warner Bros. Pictures said on Sunday.
The international component stands at $237 million from 84 markets, also setting a new record.
The old records were held by "Spider-Man 3" in 2007 when its global bow of $381.7 million included foreign sales of $230.5 million.
In North America, the new film outpaced its predecessor, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which opened to $139.7 million two years ago. That picture ended with $938 million worldwide, the seventh-biggest movie of all time before accounting for inflation.
But while the five-day sum was impressive, it was dwarfed by the $200 million opening for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" last month, which was just $3.8 million behind the record set last year by "The Dark Knight."
Top international markets for the new film included Britain with $32.4 million, Germany with $23 million, France with $20.2 million and Japan with $18.2 million.
"We are thrilled with the record-setting international results this weekend, showing that Harry Potter's audiences continue to grow as the characters mature with every installment in the series," said Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, president of international distribution at the Time Warner Inc (TWX.N)-owned studio.
The big issue is whether the new film will become the first in the franchise to crack the $1 billion mark. The biggest movie was the first one, 2001's "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," which finished with $975 million, the fifth-biggest movie of all time. (Internationally, the title was "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.")
The new film cost $235 million to make, the priciest yet in the lucrative franchise. The first five movies generated $4.5 billion in ticket sales worldwide. DVD sales send the tally even higher.
The new film opened worldwide on Wednesday, not a moment too soon for fans of the boy wizard and his pals. It was originally scheduled to open in November, but Warner Bros. decided to delay it until summer, devastating Potterphiles around the globe.
The action revolves around secret plots involving Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his nemesis Draco (Tom Felton), as the visually stunning film takes viewers deeper into the dark side. There are also budding romances among the young stars. It marks the second consecutive Harry Potter film directed by David Yates.
For the traditional three-day weekend, Friday through Sunday, the new "Harry Potter" film earned $79.5 million in North America, not far ahead of the $77.1 million haul for "Order of the Phoenix." Comparisons with the other movies in the franchise are difficult because those opened on Friday while the latter two opened on Wednesday.
Last weekend's North American champion, Universal Pictures' "Bruno," tumbled to No. 4 with $8.4 million for the three-day period, losing a hefty 73 percent of its opening-weekend audience. Movies generally hope for a 50 percent fall in their second weekend. The 10-day haul for British satirist Sacha Baron Cohen's risque look at gay culture stands at a modest $49.6 million.
20th Century Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" was steady at No. 2 with $17.7 million. The total for the cartoon rose to $152 million. The studio said it is the biggest film of the year internationally, with sales of $429 million, ahead of Paramount's "Transformers" sequel with $398 million.
But the robot picture has earned $363.9 million in North America, bolstered by a $13.8 million weekend, good enough for a second round at No. 3.
Universal is a unit of General Electric Co's (GE.N) NBC Universal. Fox is a unit of News Corp (NWSA.O). Paramount Pictures is a unit of Viacom Inc VIAb.N. (Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Eric Walsh)
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