* Previous record $22.2 million from “Harry Potter” movie
* Weekend box office could hit $100 million, experts say
* Reviews mostly poor but unlikely to impact box office (Adds details throughout)
LOS ANGELES, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Vampire romance movie “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” raked in $26.3 million at North American box offices in midnight showings, breaking the record set by “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” studio officials said on Friday.
Box office analysts expect the widely anticipated “New Moon” to make around $100 million in its opening weekend, Friday through Sunday, including screenings from last night at midnight.
The $26.3 million places the film at No. 1 on the chart of box office sales for midnight screenings, said Summit Entertainment, the independent studio behind the film.
“This massive fan response portends an opening weekend that could be one of the biggest of the year and reflects the fervor and excitement surrounding this follow-up to last year’s ‘Twilight,’” Paul Dergarabedian, head of Hollywood.com’s box office tracking division, said in a statement.
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” made $22.2 million in midnight screenings when it was released this past July.
“New Moon” follows the dangerous romance between high school student Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and immortal vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).
After falling in love with each other in “Twilight,” which came out exactly a year ago, Bella and Edward break up in “New Moon.” Bella finds solace in her friendship with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), an American Indian who is also a werewolf.
Jacob protects Bella from vampires who kill humans, but she still longs for the gentle blood-sucker Edward who got away.
The “Twilight” film franchise is based on a series of four novels of the same name by author Stephenie Meyer, which her publisher says have sold 85 million copies worldwide.
Despite the crush of fans expected this weekend, “New Moon” has not won over critics. At review site RottenTomatoes.com, the film has received only a 31 percent favorable rating.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times panned the film, writing that “sitting through this experience is like driving a pickup in low gear through a sullen sea of Brylcreem.”
Still, movies aimed at teenagers like “New Moon” are generally considered to be immune from bad reviews because younger audiences don’t read them, and not all criticism was negative. “If you buy in to the central romance, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll swoon,” wrote British film magazine Empire. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)