It lures in viewers for record-breaking box office debut

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The highly anticipated adaptation of the Stephen King classic IT is creeping out a record number of movie watchers this weekend, bursting early estimates and killing it for the genre with the biggest opening ever for a horror film.

The Hollywood Reporter reports that the film grossed $51 million on its Friday opener, with 4,103 theaters filling the seats with what will likely become the next generation of coulrophobics (people who are terrified of even decidedly less homicidal clowns.) That means box-office watchers anticipate a weekend debut over $100 million.

The terrifying film, directed by Andy Muschietti, has been generating buzz for months, and earlier this week critical praise had helped launch the fervor with a stellar 96 percent on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Although that dipped slightly to 88 percent as more reviews came in, including some tepid responses from TIME and the Village Voice, most agreed IT was evil incarnate with just enough heart, and a worthy follow-up to the acclaimed 1990 miniseries and King's 1986 book by the same name.

For the uninitiated, the film follows some familiar King tropes, firmly entrenching the surreal tale in the realistic small town of Derry, Maine, where seven outcasts who call themselves the Losers’ Club have seen their worst fears manifest in the form of an ancient shapeshifting predator they call It. The creature, Pennywise the Clown, emerges from the sewers every 27 years to feed on the terrors of the town's children.

Early estimates were hopeful for an opening weekend of $85 million in North America alone, Variety said. But Friday's figures show IT has catapulted ahead of even those predictions. And Thursday night previews of $13.5 million brought the horror show in line with more family-friendly fare, making it the third-largest for 2017, trailing behind Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Beauty and the Beast.

Not only has IT topped opening weekend records for horror films -- handily besting Paranormal Activity 3, which grossed $52.6 million on its opening weekend -- it's also won out over all other R-rated titles and any film based on a Stephen King book. Plus, It is also now the reigning champion of September debuts. The movie's Friday take alone bested Hotel Transylvania 2, which pulled in $48.5 million over the three-day weekend when it debuted in 2015.

And the New Line and Warner Bros. film is also providing a much-needed jolt to the domestic box office after seven straight down weekends as attendance fell to a 25-year low, THR noted.

With that kind of dominance at the theater, Hollywood is probably hoping the strong showing will help other films float (to the top of the box office), too.