July 2012 is finally here, and with it comes what is easily one of the most-anticipated movies ever. On July 20, audiences will pack their way in to theaters to see The Dark Knight Rises, which is the final installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Initial grosses from that movie, combined with revenue from The Amazing Spider-Man and Ice Age: Continental Drift, should make for one of the biggest months ever, though with only seven new releases it may be tough to beat July 2011's record-setting $1.4 billion.
Four years ago, The Dark Knight set an opening weekend record with $158.4 million, and eventually closed in second place on the all-time chart with $533.3 million (since then, its opening weekend record has been surpassed twice, and its total now ranks fourth all-time). It has also enjoyed a very healthy second life on DVD/Blu-ray/TV, and it's hard to find someone who hasn't seen the movie. In fact, The Dark Knight has the second-most votes ever on IMDb (718,000), and its 8.9 rating places it at number eight on the site's Top 250 list. What's important to notice among these data points is that, to put it simply, a lot of people have seen The Dark Knight, and a lot of people have liked it. Add in its cliffhanger of an ending, and there were feverish levels of anticipation for a sequel the minute the credits began.
Still, there has been some concern about the box office potential of The Dark Knight Rises, most of which revolves around Bane and Catwoman being unworthy successors to Heath Ledger's Joker. Those doubts have been largely assuaged by Warner Bros. astute marketing campaign: the studio has gone above and beyond to show that Bane is Batman's toughest physical adversary yet, and one of the teaser posters even suggests Batman is defeated at some point. Add in the tagline "The Legend Ends" and the ensuing speculation that Bruce Wayne may not survive the movie, and this is shaping up to be a nearly-unprecedented movie-going event.
A big boon to Dark Knight Rises grosses will be additional IMAX revenue. The Dark Knight only opened at 94 IMAX locations, and since then the large format screens have tripled in number in North America. With roughly an hour of IMAX footage (compared to The Dark Knight's 40 minutes or so), The Dark Knight Rises will likely sell out IMAX theaters for the better part of its nearly-two-month exclusive window.
Even with this IMAX boost, it may be tough to top The Avengers's record debut ($207.4 million) or its overall haul (on track for at least $620 million). But initial tracking suggests that the movie will debut higher than its predecessor ($158.4 million), and if it turns out to be a worthy follow-up, look out.