News

'Dark Knight' Begins Smashingly

by Brandon Gray
Christian Bale and Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
July 23, 2008

After Batman Begins healed the franchise, The Dark Knight restored Batman's former record-breaking glory and then some. Warner Bros.' $185 million sequel blazed its name atop numerous all time charts in its monumental $203.8 million five-day start, which nearly matched the entire run of its predecessor.

The Dark Knight's the fastest picture to cross the $200 million mark ever, eclipsing Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest's eight-day run. It already qualifies as the biggest opening week gross, beating Dead Man's Chest's $196 million, and still has two days to go.

Over the weekend alone, The Dark Knight captured a whopping $158.4 million on over 9,000 screens at 4,366 theaters, breaking Spider-Man 3's benchmark of $151.1 million. Among the other notches on The Dark Knight's utility belt are records for IMAX opening (around $6.3 million at 94 sites over the weekend), midnight opening ($18.5 million at 3,040 venues), single day gross ($67.2 million on Friday), Sunday gross ($43.6 million) and non-holiday Monday gross ($24.5 million).

"I give credit to [Dark Knight writer-director] Christopher Nolan," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' president of distribution. "With Batman Begins, he picked up on the last Batman [Batman and Robin], which was down to $107 million, and started a new franchise. We did $205 million, almost double. With strong DVD sales and terrific showings on television, we built a bigger audience base." Fellman also credited The Dark Knight's trailer, the Joker villain, Heath Ledger's performance and positive early reviews among other factors. "All of this led to the groundswell," Fellman added. "Could it have been predicted? No. Did I think it could come close to Spider-Man 3? No. This is the reality of the business. With the economic times, movies are still the cheapest form of entertainment, and The Dark Knight brought a little hope."

The Dark Knight's opening was a testament to what audiences thought of Batman Begins. That picture had to overcome the debacle of Batman and Robin and it succeeded, creating excitement for the next movie with the promise of The Joker in its closing scenes before Heath Ledger was even cast. The publicity surrounding Ledger's untimely death and the quality of his performance as one of the most popular comic book villains supercharged Dark Knight's allure. As its enormous figures suggest, the picture played broadly. Warner Bros' research indicated that 52 percent of the audience was male and that there was an even split between those over and under 25 years old.

Establishing milestones isn't new for the Batman franchise. Batman, featuring The Joker, made box office history in 1989, garnering $40.5 million on its opening weekend at 2,194 theaters. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, that would equal around $72 million today, and its $251.2 million final tally would adjust to over $440 million. Subsequently, Batman Returns and Batman Forever also set opening records but grossed significantly less overall before the Batman and Robin derailment.

The advent of The Dark Knight propelled the weekend to an overall gross of over $260 million, the highest ever. Contributing to the bustling period was the debut of the musical Mamma Mia!, which successfully counter-programmed Batman to log the highest-grossing first weekend of its genre.

Mamma Mia! grabbed $27.8 million on around 3,700 screens at 2,976 locations over the weekend, edging out the opening of Hairspray at the same time last year. Through their fifth days of release, the two musicals were neck and neck, and Hairspray went on to make $118.9 million. Mamma Mia! distributor Universal Pictures' exit polling for the $50 million plus production indicated that 75 percent of the audience was female and 64 percent was over 30 years old. The picture, based on the popular stage musical of the same name, appealed with its famous ABBA music, wedding theme and sunny disposition.

The computer-animated Space Chimps also launched but sputtered to one of the weakest starts of its genre, grossing $7.2 million over the weekend at 2,511 sites.

Among holdovers, movies in the superhero or comic book space felt the brunt of The Dark Knight. Last weekend's top grosser, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, collapsed 71 percent over the weekend to $10.1 million, compared to the 53 percent drop of its predecessor. Hellboy II, though, will soon surpass the first movie's $60 million final tally. Hancock dove 56 percent to $14 million over the weekend, falling harder than Men in Black II and other past Will Smith July vehicles in their third outings. Hancock, though, will soon fly past the $200 million mark.

Meanwhile, family adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth held decently, down 41 percent to $12.3 million over the weekend and is closing in on the $50 million mark. Wall-E was still in the mix and on its way to over $200 million, but its $10.1 million fourth weekend was lower than Ratatouille and Cars at the same point.

RELATED STORIES
7/23/07 - 'Chuck & Larry' Can't Stop 'Hairspray' Sheen (Same Weekend, 2007)
7/10/06 - 'Pirates' Pilfer More Records (Same Weekend, 2006)
7/18/05 - 'Charlie,' 'Crashers' Draw Golden Box Office Ticket (Same Weekend, 2005)
7/18/05 - 'Batman Begins' in the Shadows

RELATED CHARTS
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Fastest to $200 Million
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