Peter Jackson's version of King Kong took $18m (£10.1m) worldwide in its first day on release but looks unlikely to set a US record haul.
King Kong is a remake of the 1933 original, which starred Fay Wray
The remake, one of the biggest launches in US film history, took $9.8m (£5.5m) in one day in the US and Canada.
Spider-Man took $114.8m in its opening weekend in 2002 while Revenge of the Sith, the final Star Wars film, took $158.5m in four days this year.
King Kong opened in the UK on Thursday, a day after its US launch.
US box office experts said some factors worked against the $200m film, including children still being in school and the fact that it is not a sequel to a blockbuster like the later Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter movies.
"It's a little too early to say what this means for King Kong," said Gitesh Pandya of Boxofficeguru.com.
"Based on exit polls, fans who did come out are all loving it."
Nikki Rocco, head of film-makers Universal Pictures' US distribution arm, said it was "a great way to start out".
Mulholland Drive actress Naomi Watts is among the stars
"With $10m and 1.5 million people out there talking about how great it is, it all works to build what we think will be a holiday smash hit."
David Kosse, Universal's president of international marketing and distribution, added that the film had set records throughout southeast Asia.
It had also given the studio its biggest opening day in the United Arab Emirates, Denmark and Russia, he added.
Universal is screening the film in 3,568 US cinemas. Shrek 2 holds the record for a movie launch, opening in 4,163 cinemas last year.
King Kong took a further $8m when it opened in 36 other countries.
By the time it has opened in another 19 countries, including the UK, the film will be screened in a total of more than 6,000 cinemas.
The film has generally received rave reviews in the US and UK.
Some of the most popular Hollywood films ever released have had slow US openings.
Tilda Swinton plays the White Witch in the Narnia film
When Titanic and Tomorrow Never Dies opened in the same week in December 1997 they had similiar success, with director James Cameron's film taking $28m, compared to $25m for the James Bond movie.
Titanic, which starred Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, went on to become the top-grossing film of all time with $1.8bn in worldwide ticket sales.
Meanwhile, US box office experts say the release of a flurry of blockbusters will not stop the largest drop in audience levels for 20 years.
This year's box office level is expected to be down by around 6% on 2004, the highest reduction since admissions fell 12% in 1985.
Box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations said the success of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire reduced the deficit to 7.3% but overall ticket sales are set to finish at about 1.4bn, the lowest level since 1997.
The release of King Kong and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are expected to reduce the gap further but the total US box office could fall below $9bn for the first time since 2001.
Exhibitor Relations president Paul Dergarabedian added that the expected success of King Kong and Narnia would provide "a psychological boost" for the US film industry.