2012moviestill1Say what you will about disaster films, movie goers like to see things blown up – the bigger the better. And when it involves destroying the entire world, well, you can’t get much bigger than that.

Superb special effects and destruction on a massive scale were enough to vault apocalypse film “2012” to the top of the weekend box office, and set the bar for the next looming blockbuster, Summit Entertainment’s “Twilight” franchise.

Helmed by “Independence Day” Director Roland Emmerich, 2012 pulled in $225 million worldwide, distributor Columbia Pictures said on Sunday (Nov. 15).

“The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” a sequel to 2008 hit vampire romance “Twilight” debuts Nov. 20, and expectations are high for a boffo box office. The studio spent a mere $50 million on the film.

It spent even less, around $37 million on “Twilight,” which earned nearly $400 million worldwide.

The hype has been relentless however, thanks to the movie’s stars Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner.

Online ticket sellers report “New Moon” is one of their highest pre-sale movies of all time, and box office watchers expect the film to have a smash opening.

The Sci-fi “2012” pulled in $65 million from the North American market, bumping up against industry forecasts of $55 million to $65 million box office. The international tally came to $160 million.

Columbia, a unit of Sony Corp, said “2012” marked the highest worldwide opening ever for an original film not based on an established franchise, brand or best-selling novel.

The record for a worldwide opening is $394 million, set in July by “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”

The movie earned $158 million from North America and $236 million from 54 foreign territories, according to tracking firm Box Office Mojo. But that film enjoyed a two-day head start by opening on a Wednesday.

“2012” vaulted into the No. 1 spot with $23.6 million Friday (including $1M in Thursday midnights) and $24.8M Saturday (+5%) from 3,404 theaters, with the studio expecting another $16.6M on Sunday, according to deadlinehollywooddaily’s Nikki Finke.

Finke attributed the film’s success to aggressive marketing including a focus on Internet searches surrounding the Mayan prophesy on which the movie is based.

The prediction of the end of the world by the once dominant South American culture gave the film a mystical semi-historical tie-in, much like the “Da Vinci Code.” Given the direction of the economy, the film took on a particular relevance.

Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” came in at No. 2, down just 23 percent from a week ago with $5.6 million Friday and $10.4 million Saturday from 3,653 screens for a total box office of $23 million weekend.

The celebrity-driven movie, starring Jim Carrey, stumbled at box office, opening to a lower-than-expected $30 million.

As for 2012, Sony, which faced stiff competition when it bid for the script, reportedly poured most of the film’s budget into special effects. The movie is a 2 hour, 39 minute, “nonstop series of deaths, explosions and collapsing buildings,” says Finke.

The studio got by with relative unknown, and probably lower paid actors, apparently taking a page from action movies like the “Transformers” franchise, where the special effects also were the stars.

The movie fits a recent pattern in Hollywood where cash-strapped studios are turning away from high –priced talent. Part of the reason is budgetary, but another is the recent success of movies with no-name stars.

“The Hangover,” a movie with a little known cast, raked in $459 million at worldwide over the summer, and “District 9,” another low budget movie big on special effects, grossed $200 million.