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Sunday, July 20, 2008

'The Dark Knight' swoops to biggest opening in history, July 18-20, 2008

Mid-July isn't supposed to be a particularly good time for box office records, with eight of the top ten best opening weekends of all-time occurring in the month of May. But thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign, stellar reviews and huge anticipation, Warner Bros.'s revival of its storied Batman franchise is now officially complete thanks to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, which shattered all sorts of opening weekend records with a staggering $155.3m million bow.

You read that right, The Dark Knight hauled in $155.3 million in three days, averaging an eye-popping $35,579 (also a record) in 4,366 theaters, surpassing the monumental $151.1 million opening take of last year's Spider-Man 3. 2006's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is a distant third with a $135.6 million debut.

Budgeted at $180 million, Dark Knight set the stage for its record-breaking weekend with an $18.5 million Thursday midnight haul, which included shows starting at midnight Thursday onto 3am Friday morning. That number was the biggest Thursday night sneak total ever, surpassing 2005's Star Wars Episode III with $16.9 million. The Christian Bale-starrer then blew the doors open with $51 million for the rest of Friday, bringing its total Friday haul to a record $67.9 million. Sony's Spider-Man 3 had held the record with a $59.8 million first-day take. Sales fell a rather large but understandable 29% to $48 million on Saturday, with Warner estimating Sunday's take at $39.5 million. The film also featured six action sequences utilizing IMAX cameras, a fact that help bring in a record $6.2 million in 94 IMAX venues nationwide, averaging a whopping $66,0000 per theater.

The debut of The Dark Knight came within $50 million of surpassing its predecessor Batman Begins' entire $205.3 million domestic take. But that Nolan-directed pic singlehandedly revived a Batman franchise that had been dead in the water after 1997's flop Batman and Robin. In director Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Prestige) and star Christian Bale, Warner landed a combination that brought a darker and more realistic tone to the superhero saga, something that had been completely missing from Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Those two films grossed $184 million and $107 million respectively.

Starring the late Heath Ledger as The Joker, it's arguable if his unexpected death in the beginning of 2008 brought in many more ticket buyers than normally would have attended this weekend, but it did bring a huge amount of awareness for the film. It is the actor's stirring performance as the chief villain that may wind up being the film's most memorable achievement. With word of mouth expected to be very strong (something last year's Spider-Man 3 desperately lacked), look for The Dark Knight to surpass $400 million domestic.

Internationally, Warner released The Dark Knight semi-globally, debuting the film in just 20 markets for a $40 million bow. Big markets like the U.K. will release the film later this month.

Led by a massive infusion of Batman cash as well as a solid opening from Mamma Mia!, the top ten films posted a jaw-dropping $255 million in sales, making it easily the biggest weekend in history. The previous record had been 2006's July 4th frame with $218.4 million, when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest topped the box office with a then-record $135.6 million.

Opening in second place with a solid showing of its own was the Meryl Streep-led musical Mamma Mia! which bowed to an estimated $27.6M for Universal. The PG-13 film averaged a stellar $9,276 from 2,976 locations performing just like last summer's musical hit Hairspray which debuted to $27.5M this very weekend. Mamma, which also stars Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Christine Baranski, played to an audience of adult women with studio data showing that 75% of the crowd was female while 64% was over the age of 30.

It was aimed as an alternative to Dark Knight and the strategy worked like a charm. Streep's The Devil Wears Prada received the same treatment bowing to a similar $27.5M against Superman Returns two summers ago on its way to a sensational $124.7M domestic and $325M worldwide.

Despite mostly mixed reviews the stage musical adaptation Mamma Mia! opened strong in second with an estimated $27.6 million. Budgeted at $65 million, the Universal pic averaged $9,276 in 2,976 theaters, benefiting from some nice counterprogramming on the part of Universal. Starring Meryl Streep and Colin Firth, the film trended decidedly older female. Internationally, the film has been a major hit, pulling in $72.6 million in two weeks of release, bringing its global take to just over $100 million.

Falling an understandable 56% thanks to Mr. Bruce Wayne's dramatic entrance, Will Smith's Hancock fell to third with $14 million, bringing its 19 day take to a huge $191.5 million. At its current pace look for the film to finish with $225 million domestic. Internationally, the film is on fire with $253 million, bringing its global take to a massive $444 million.

The smallest drop in the top ten went to New Line's Journey to the Center of the Earth with a 43% dip to $11.9 million. In two weeks the well-reviewed Brendan Fraser starrer has grossed $43.1 million. Budgeted at $60 million, the PG-rated release should finish with $80 million domestic.

The award for "critics got this one wrong" went to last week's champ Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which tumbled a frightening 71% to an estimated $10 million this weekend. Though universally praised by critics, audiences have not been as eager to recommend the film. In ten days the $85 million budgeted sequel has grossed $56.4 million and looks very unlikely to break even on the domestic front.

The weekend's final debut was Fox's computer-animated Space Chimps in seventh with $7.3 million. Blasted by critics, the Canadian animation production averaged just $2,927 in 2,511 theaters. Look for a quick exit from the top ten for this animated sci-fi comedy.

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