"Batman Returns" soared to the biggest opening weekend in movie history, taking in an estimated $46.6 million at the box office and smashing the record set by the 1989 mega-hit "Batman."

"This is sensational. It's an all-time industry record," Barry Reardon, Warner Bros.' president of distribution, told Reuters Sunday.The estimated three-day gross easily topped the $42.7 million in revenues from the weekend debut of "Batman," which went on to become the sixth biggest-grossing film of all time.

The sequel, which opened with one of most expensive marketing campaigns ever seen, also had the single biggest night of any film, grossing just over $16 million Saturday, Reardon said.

The total of $46,558,000 that Warner Bros. estimated for the weekend includes projected ticket sales of about $14 million for Sunday.

The movie, which cost $55 million to produce, stars Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. His nemesis is the raw fish-eating Penguin, played by Danny DeVito. Michelle Pfeiffer co-stars as the slinky Catwoman, who prowls the film dressed in a black skintight suit.

"Batman Returns" was shown at midnight previews on 1,200 movie screens nationwide Thursday and officially opened Friday night on another 2,600 screens.

The original "Batman," which debuted on 400 fewer screens, took in about $250 million in the United States and Canada and another $155 million in international markets.

Only five films in history have done better in North America, starting with "E.T. - The Extraterrestrial" with a gross of $399.8 million, followed by "Star Wars," "Home Alone," "Return of the Jedi" and "Jaws."

Reardon said the opening box office for "Batman Returns" raised hopes about the prospects for topping the first film's North American revenues but that it was too early to make predictions.

"That $250 million is the number we would want to beat if we could," he said.

Entertainment industry analysts predicted before the opening that it would gross between $150 million and $200 million, less than the original but still a healthy take in a sluggish economy.

Despite the success of "Batman Returns," some reviewers have panned the film as too dark and lacking in plot, and many fans have come away disappointed that it did not live up to its advance hype.

"About halfway through the movie, I realized this hunk of so-called mainstream entertainment deals with kinky sex, child murder, violence against women and mutilation, not to mention poor manners," said John Cochrane, film critic for a Los Angeles TV station.

While the movie played to packed houses in many cities, some theaters reported plenty of empty seats.

The merchandising of Batman products is expected to be even more lucrative than the box office take.

The original Batman reeled in more than $500 million in sales of T-shirts, toys, videocassettes and games.

Warner Bros. and its partners have mounted a $100 million advertising and promotional campaign for the sequel. The effort is backed by the marketing muscle of McDonald's and Diet Coke product and advertising tie-ins.

"Customer response is overwhelming," said McDonald's spokeswoman Susan Bergen.

More than 9,000 McDonald's restaurants in the United States and Canada are offering customers Batman Happy Meals and six "Batman Returns" 32-ounce plastic drinking cups decorated with the main characters.

Warner Bros. has now produced the three biggest opening weekend box office takes of all time. Along with the Batman movies, it made "Lethal Weapon 3," which opened May 15-17 with $33.2 million in ticket sales.

"Batman Returns" is expected to overwhelm the rest of this month's summer movie crop. Its biggest challenge will be Paramount's "Boomerang," an Eddie Murphy comedy that opens July 1 in time for the Independence Day weekend.