Director James Cameron's big-budget film Avatar took in $3.5 million at its initial midnight screenings on Friday in the United States and Canada, ticket tracker Box Office said on Friday.

That figure pales in comparison to other, recent openings of highly anticipated films like The Twilight Saga: New Moon, which raked in a record $26.3 million for its debut midnight screenings in November.

But New Moon already had a large fan base from 2008's first Twilight movie and the best-selling vampire romance novels by Stephenie Meyer on which the films are based.

Avatar, by comparison, has no predecessor film or book and is based on an original idea from Titanic director Cameron. Box office watchers will be following its full weekend debut to begin charting its financial success or failure.

The movie, backed by News Corp's 20th Century Fox studio, is among the most expensive made. Fox has said it cost $237 million to make, but media reports have speculated its true pricetag is around $300 million. Fox has said it will spend another $150 million to market the movie worldwide.

Box office watchers expect it will rake in more than $75 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters this weekend, which would be a solid start for the movie that will also play in 3-D.