In a racy debut worthy of the pic’s curtain-raising Thames River chase, MGM’s James Bond pic, “The World Is Not Enough,” took in an estimated $37.2 million over the weekend.

The 19th installment in the 37-year-old series had the best Bond bow by far, beating the $26.2 million mark set by “Goldeneye” in 1995. If the studio estimate holds true, “World’s” weekend will earn a place, fittingly, as the 19th-biggest in domestic B.O. history.

Even better for MGM’s new management, it’s the Lion’s best opening weekend for any film in its 75-year history.

“Bond is bigger, better and healthier than ever,” said MGM distrib prexy Larry Gleason.

Nearly as robust was Paramount’s horror homage “Sleepy Hollow.” Budgeted at around $70 million, Tim Burton-helmed pic galloped to a $30.5 million start. That surprised some onlookers who figured the R-rated gore might keep mass auds at bay. Mandalay Pictures and Par co-produced, with Mandalay distributing overseas. The two will split profits equally.

The two top releases combined to decapitate rivals, despite receipts of the top 10 rising 14% over the same frame a year ago. It’s the first time that two films have bowed to more than $30 million in the same weekend.

In true holiday B.O. spirit, anyone out of the top two spots got basted.

“Pokemon: The First Movie” looked pokey, man, dropping 57% in its second weekend to claim $13.3 million.

Toon’s cume after 10 days is $68.2 million, but sledding won’t get any easier from here, with “Toy Story 2,” “Stuart Little” and others in the wings. Still, Warner Bros. distrib chief Dan Fellman feels $100 million is a lock.

“There are a lot of R-rated movies out there,” he said. “So we’re looking forward to the holidays.”

Other wide releases competed for scraps, falling from 41% to 61%.

‘World’ domination

But story of the frame clearly was gross. Bond’s gross.

“These movies have become a tradition at the end of the year,” Gleason said. “You always wonder, ‘How do you top the last one?'”

Yet “World” also defied typical Bond demos. Auds were, on average, 20% younger than those for 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies.” They were 55% male, a more even ratio than usual.

MGM chalked that up in part to marketing push via MTV and casting of 27-year-old Denise Richards.

The world should be enough to satiate Lion this time around, if U.S. bow is any indication. Pic opens in the U.K. and Australia on Friday. It’s already out in Malaysia and Singapore.

Bonds usually gross two to three times their domestic total overseas.

But don’t forget the Great White North. Top-grossing weekend site was the Paramount in Montreal, with an estimated take of $100,000. Most pics do about 8% of their North American biz in Canada, but MGM noted Bonds often get 12% to 14% of the tally from Canucks.

Given reports from insiders that new pic’s budget hovered around $130 million (MGM insists it’s more like $100 million), the debut comes as a big relief for the Lion.

“There’s no question, this is a hugely important film for MGM,” Gleason said.

The numbers bear that out. If “World” goes on to do $120 million domestic (in the ballpark of the last two Bonds), that would represent more than one-third of MGM’s B.O. total for its 13 releases in 1999.

Meanwhile, majors with far larger slates than MGM’s are trying to balance faltering large-scale efforts against promising platforms.

‘Story’ time for Disney

Disney, smarting from “The Insider’s” tepid showing in Week 3 (cume is just $18.4 million), set a new record at L.A.’s El Capitan. “Toy Story 2” collected an estimated $302,000 from six shows a day over the weekend, with Saturday’s actual total of $110,716 eclipsing the level of Mouse House toon “Tarzan.” Sequel opens nationwide on Wednesday.

With “Pokemon” waning, Warners bowed “Liberty Heights,” decidedly not based on a Nintendo game. Barry Levinson-helmed drama opened Wednesday and is in four sites covering Gotham, L.A. and Baltimore.

Cume is seen at a sturdy $130,000 after five days. Saturday total was $40,198. It’ll stay in same venues until Dec. 10, when it’ll add six new markets.

Sony’s “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” got burned at the B.O. stake in its sophomore frame, plummeting 61% and lifting cume to just $10.8 million. But studio’s Classics unit reported $88,296 at two Gotham houses for Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother.” It’s the Spanish helmer’s best debut.

Other limited releases achieved sketchy results.

Miramax tucked $87,000 under its hoop skirt from the Jane Austen novel-based pic “Mansfield Park” at eight sites. Cume, due to Thursday bow, is $95,000.

Artisan is still looking for the next “Blair Witch Project.” Since that July horror smash, minimajor has put out “Illuminata,” “The Minus Man,” “Stir of Echoes,” “The Limey” and “Felicia’s Journey.” None has made much of a B.O. dent.

“Felicia,” by noted helmer Atom Egoyan, joined the lackluster list with $125,000 at 33 sites, a per-screen average of $3,788. Cume is $185,000 after 10 days.

USA Films’ “Being John Malkovich” can’t quite be called a limited release anymore. Widening to 591 sites, it saw biz fall just 20%, joining the top 10 with $1.9 million.

Same auds drawn to “Malkovich” may have forsaken Lions Gate’s “Dogma,” which held on to fifth place despite a 53% fall. Cume of $15.8 million makes it best performer for director Kevin Smith and for Lions Gate, which launched in January 1998.

Fox, diverting attention from its limp performers “Anywhere But Here” and “Light It Up,” announced it’ll run sneak previews of Thai-themed “Anna and the King” this Saturday in 17 markets. The 19th century drama starring Jodie Foster and Yun-Fat Chow debuts nationwide Dec. 17.