Movie PictureAccording to Variety, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith has grossed $158.5 million in its first four days. The film finished George Lucas' sci-fi epic like it started in 1977, raising the bar for blockbusters.

Released day-and-date by 20th Century Fox in 115 territories, Sith has already taken in $303 million, a worldwide opening record.

Opening in 3,661 theaters with a massive 9,000-plus print count domestically, Sith claimed a quiver of records, including the largest four-day opening, outpacing 2003's The Matrix Reloaded, which rang up $134.3 in its four-day opening span.

Sith began setting records as soon as it started playing at midnight Thursday morning. Those shows brought in a record $16.9 million. The full-day Thursday gross of $50 million handily claimed the single-day gross title, setting aside the $44.8 million earned on its opening Saturday.

Still, Spider-Man's $114.8 million opening record remains the gold standard for Friday-Sunday spans, since Sith took in $108.5 million over the span. And on the all-time opening weekend chart, ignoring the duration of the "weekend," the "Sith" number is second behind the $180 million earned by Spider-Man 2 last summer on a six-day opening stretch that ran from Wednesday through Monday.

But Fox pointed out that with the help of its record-setting opening Thursday grosses, Sith earned more than any other film in its first two days ($83.8 million), its first three days ($124.7 million) and four days ($158.5 million).

"These records," Fox distrib prexy Bruce Snyder said, "have always, in my mind, belonged to 'Star Wars.' "

Exit surveys showed the aud skewed male and older, with 58% of the aud male and 52% over age 25. Snyder said that data came only from Friday shows and he expects the aud to even up a bit by gender once the Saturday data is included.

The Sith debut is by far the best in the "Star Wars" prequel cycle. The Phantom Menace, which has been the biggest grosser with $431 million under its belt, opened on a Wednesday in 1999 and took in $105.7 million in its first five days. Three years later, Attack of the Clones eventually cumed far less than "Phantom" with $302 million despite a stronger opening of $110 million over four days after opening on a Thursday.

As a historical note, Return of the Jedi, the only pic in the original trilogy to debut in wide release with 1,002 theaters, grossed $33.7 million through its first five days when it bowed on a Wednesday in 1983.

Despite the monster bow by Sith, total box office over the weekend was down against last year for the 13th straight week. Nielsen EDI estimates total biz at $160 million, down 6% against last year, when Shrek 2 led the frame with its $108 million three-day total.

But Sith's $50 million Thursday (which isn't included in the weekend total) helped narrow the gap between the 2005 year-to-date total and 2004's. Total grosses for the year are estimated by EDI at $2.951 billion, 6% behind 2004. At the end of last weekend, box office was running 7% behind last year.

Despite Sith's dominance of the marketplace -- it accounted for about two-thirds of all ticket sales this weekend -- there were several strong holdover perfs. New Line's Monster-in-Law dipped just 38% from last week's opening to $14.4 million to claim the No. 2 spot. Cume on the Jennifer Lopez-Jane Fonda laffer is $44.2 million.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Star Wars franchise is climaxing with a bang worldwide as well. The film, amassed an estimated $144.7 million from about 10,300 screens in 105 countries/114 markets during the weekend. That eclipsed the industry's record -- held by The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring -- which minted $125.9 million in its first five days in only 28 territories in December 2003. And its haul more that doubled the $69.1 million rung up by Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones when it bowed in 67 territories.