"Eclipse" takes $30 million bite from midnight box office

NEW YORK Wed Jun 30, 2010 2:28pm EDT

1 of 2. U.S. actress Ashley Greene and Australian actor Xavier Samuel pose during a photocall to promote their latest film 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' in Madrid June 28, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Sergio Perez

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Vampire romance has become hotter -- if you can believe the story.

That seems to be the consensus by U.S. critics for the third episode of teen vampire saga "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," which debuted on Wednesday to a record-breaking $30 million box office in screenings just after midnight.

North American ticket sales beat predecessor "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" with $26.3 million and are the most for any movie's midnight screenings, according to tracker Hollywood.com Box Office.

Critics said the movie boosted its romantic storyline, but the overall film was not entirely satisfying due to poor acting and execution, according to a consensus of reviews posted Wednesday.

The middle installment of the film franchise -- Stephenie Meyer's four books are being spread out over five films for maximum profit -- was released in U.S. cinemas this week and again features a love triangle between Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner.)

The third film is "more of the same" from the first two movie, said USA Today, noting the physical attributes of the three co-stars are featured heavily in the film franchise that is wildly popular with the coveted teen market.

"This is definitely the most romantic of the films, although some of these scenes are set in flower-filled meadows that bring to mind feminine-hygiene commercials," the newspaper said.

The New York Times said "Eclipse" was "a more robustly entertaining film than either of its predecessors" with added humor, more violence, "and, true to the film's title, a deeper intimation of darkness."

But it said with the exception of Stewart, "what there isn't, as usual, is much in the way of good acting."

Overall, the film has scored a 50 percent rating among reviews aggregated by website rottentomatoes.com with 53 critics saying positive things and 53 negative.

BOX OFFICE UNFAZED

But reviews may not matter for the teen market who have embraced the first two films as much as they have Meyer's books, and the midnight screenings certainly brought out loyal followers known as "Twi-hards."

The initial "Twilight" sucked $392.5 million from box offices worldwide and its sequel, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" raked-in $709 million worldwide.

And whether they can act or not, the franchise's stars have profited. Both Pattinson and Stewart were ranked in this week's Forbes' magazine 2010 celebrity power list, earning $17 million and $12 million respectively in 2010. Author Stephenie Meyer made $40 million.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said while part of the movie didn't work, including the special effects, "the audience watched this film rapt with attention" and in summing up, said "The 'Twilight' movies are chaste eroticism to fuel adolescent dreams."

To sum up the movie, many reviews noted the line from the film that seemed to most epitomize the stand-off between Edward and Jacob over their competing affections for Bella. Jacob tells his rival: "Let's face it, I'm hotter than you."

(Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

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