"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" reaped $17 million (12.6 million EUR) during its initial screenings.
The third film in the popular "Pirates" franchise racked up the biggest early premiere numbers ever, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
It also set a record with the largest number of debut screens at 4,362.
It remained to be seen if the film from The Walt Disney Co. can break other records, including best Memorial Day weekend.
Disney made a last-minute decision to premiere the film domestically Thursday evening instead of the traditional Friday opening.
About 3,000 or so theaters had 8 p.m. showings, with many opening additional theaters to accommodate the crowds, according to Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney.
"We are truly pleased by the reaction," Viane said.
The $17 million included about $3 million (2.2 million EUR) that came from midnight showings in many theaters, Viane said.
Overseas, the film grossed $12.1 million (9 million EUR) in 13 countries on Wednesday and brought in an additional $29 million (21.6 million EUR) from Thursday showings in 39 countries.
"This number tells us that people have a tremendous interest in this movie, regardless of the running time, regardless of any reviews," Dergarabedian said.
"Pirates," which stars Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, lasts nearly three hours, making it a challenge to pack in a lot of showings.
It also has been getting generally poor reviews, putting it in the same boat as another summer sequel, "Spider-Man 3."
That movie shattered the record for best opening weekend, pulling in $151.1 million (112.4 million EUR) when it opened earlier this month.