“The Dark Knight,” the sixth in Warner Brothers’ franchise of “Batman” movies, set a record with three-day ticket sales of $155.3 million over the weekend.
By Warner’s estimate, the film outstripped opening-weekend ticket sales of last year’s “Spider-Man 3,” which took $151.1 million for Sony Pictures and was the previous record holder. “The Dark Knight” also set a one-day box office record with $66.4 million on opening day, Warner Bros. head of distribution Dan Fellman said Saturday, breaking another Spider-man 3 record.
“The Dark Knight” began with a record $18.5 million from midnight screenings, topping the previous high of $16.9 million for “Star Wars: Episode III : The Revenge of the Sith.”
“We’ve really never seen anything like this,” said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers. “The death of a fine actor taken in his prime, a legendary performance, and a movie that lives up to all the hype. That all combined to create these record-breaking numbers.”
“It’s a combination of things. Certainly, that’s a great part of it, but I think this movie’s gross was partly because of the reviews it received and the incredible buzz and word of mouth that preceded it with our early screenings,” Fellman said. “And the success and quality of the last one, `Batman Begins,’ delivered by Chris Nolan just set the tone for the opening of this movie.”
The Dark Knight went on to set 5 more records including:
1 – LARGEST NUMBER OF OPENING THEATRES WITH 4,366 (MORE THAN THE 4,362 DEBUT THEATRES OF PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END IN 2007).
2 – BIGGEST IMAX MIDNIGHT PREVIEWS SET AN NEW RECORD WITH $640,000 (INCLUDED IN THE $18.489 MILLION PREVIEW NUMBER).
3 – BIGGEST OPENING WEEKEND GROSS FOR AN IMAX RELEASE IN BOX OFFICE HISTORY WITH $6,214,061 MILLION IN 94 THEATRES WITH $66,107 PER THEATRE. (BESTS THE $4.7 MILLION SET BY SPIDER-MAN 3 IN 2007.) IMAX SHOWING AT FULL CAPACITY $1.9 MILLION ON SATURDAY ALONE.
4 – BIGGEST OPENING WEEKEND OF 2008 WITH $151.340 (BEATS INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL’S $101.137 MILLION FROM MAY 23-25, 2008)
5 – BIGGEST JULY OPENING EVER (BEATS PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST’S $135,634,554 ON JULY 7, 2006).
Including a solid $27.6 million for the musical “Mamma Mia!” from Universal, the weekend’s top 12 films took in about $249.6 million, according to the box office consultant Media By Numbers. That lifted the domestic box office total for the year so far to $5.36 billion.
That is still down about 1 percent from last year, and the number of theatergoers is down 3.7 percent. But the weekend performance gave studios and theater owners alike reason to take heart, as it proved that even a familiar franchise like the “Batman” series can still bring surprises.
“It just took on a life of its own,” said Dan Fellman, Warner’s president for theatrical distribution. “You never expect anything like this.”
Unusual excitement began to build weeks ago around “The Dark Knight,” much of it fed by anticipation of a performance as the villainous Joker by Heath Ledger, the Australian actor who died in January.
Theaters began adding midnight and early morning screenings of the film, as fans scooped up advance tickets from the online ticket services Fandango.com and Movietickets.com. At sellout shows around the country, audiences, including more than a few viewers who came made up to resemble Ledger’s Joker, pushed Friday ticket sales to an estimated $66.4 million, including an extraordinary $18.5 million from the midnight showings.
That the film’s opening took on an event status that previous “Batman” movies never quite achieved apparently owed something to its strong presence in the outsized Imax format.
The film, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, was filmed partly using Imax cameras, and opened on nearly 100 Imax screens in the United States. That meant a boost at the box office because Imax tickets cost an average of $12.80, about 75 percent more than the overall average ticket price of $7.08, as estimated by Media By Numbers.
The summer box office thus far had been solid, but hardly spectacular, with tickets for the season up slightly at $2.76 billion, thanks to price inflation, and attendance down about 2 percent. Films like “Iron Man” from Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios, and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” from Paramount and LucasFilm, topped the $300 million mark.
But “Hancock,” an off-center superhero movie from Sony Pictures and the star Will Smith, came up short of last year’s “Transformers” over the July Fourth holiday, and several pictures, including “Meet Dave” from Eddie Murphy and 20th Century Fox fell flat.
Fox suffered another embarrassment with “Space Chimps,” an animated film that took in just $7.4 million and debuted seventh at the box office this weekend.
A strong opening like that of “The Dark Knight” tends to drive future ticket sales, as viewers find their appetites piqued. In this case, a future beneficiary may be “Terminator Salvation,” a Warner action film scheduled to open next May: The movie’s trailer was attached to “The Dark Knight,” putting it in front of a particularly eager audience.
The box office take for “Mamma Mia!,” which starred Meryl Streep, was almost identical to that on the equivalent weekend last year by “Hairspray,” a New Line Cinema musical that took in $27.5 million in first-weekend sales and went on to make $118.9 million.
Other top-performing films this weekend included “Hancock,” with $14 million (for a total of $191.5 million); “Journey to the Center of the Earth” from Warner, with $11.9 million (a total of $43.1)million; “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” from Universal, with $10 million ($56.4 million total); and “Wall-E” from the Walt Disney Company with $9.8 million ($182.5 million total).
For all the record-setting, the weekend’s performance has also underscored how much harder studios have been working for their hits in recent years.
In 1989, “Batman,” with a budget of $35 million, opened to $40.5 million and went on to take in more than $251 million at the domestic box office.
“The Dark Knight,” by contrast, cost over $180 million. Given the pattern of contemporary blockbusters, the film appears unlikely to match the performance of its predecessor, whose domestic box office sales would be on the order of $450 million if adjusted to reflect ticket price inflation.
Today’s blockbusters films tend to open bigger, and disappear more quickly, than those of the past. “Spider-Man 3” took in about 45 percent of its $336.5 million in total sales on its opening weekend, and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” took in 37 percent of its $309.4 million on the first weekend last year.
“Batman,” by contrast, will likely take only 16 percent of sales from its opening weekend.
Mr. Fellman said he believed “The Dark Knight” would continue to outpace “Spider-Man 3” in coming days, thanks to a midsummer date when school is out. “Spider-Man 3” was released in early May and had to fight harder for midweek business.
By the week’s end, Mr. Fellman said, “The Dark Knight” is likely to take in more than the $205 million in total domestic ticket sales for its immediate predecessor, “Batman Begins,” in 2005.
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