"Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" raked in an estimated $16.5 million from 2,900 midnight screenings Thursday, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
That's double what the Oscar-winning film "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" took in during its midnight showings in 2003. The third film from director Peter Jackson's trilogy rang up about $8 million domestically from 2,100 midnight shows.
"This is extremely impressive," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. "It just says so much about how excited people are to see this film that they lined up at midnight and just got on board and went along for the ride."
After the midnight debut, "Revenge of the Sith" widened to 3,661 theaters for daytime and evening screenings. The studio, 20th Century Fox, said box-office results for the first full day would be available Friday.
Tickets for the film went on sale last month. Soon after, legions of fans began lining up at theaters across the country, many dressed in full "Star Wars" regalia and sporting Jedi light sabers.
The final chapter in Lucas' six-film saga chronicles Anakin Skywalker's transformation from hero to villain Darth Vader. The film may be the darkest chapter in the "Star Wars" story, featuring more violence and a story line showing how a democratic government turns into a despotic regime.
People magazine's senior editor Jess Cagle, who's seen the movie, told CBS' Early Show Wednesday, "You can arguably say this is the best of the six.
"I think you could safely say that. I think the purists who love the first one, might argue that there was something more pure about those."
"Revenge of the Sith" is the first "Star Wars" film to earn a PG-13 rating. The first five films were rated PG.