A year ago I don’t think anyone would have thought that we’d be having this discussion. Batman Begins did really well at the box office, but no one was expected The Dark Knight to be in serious contention for box office champion of the summer of 2008. Not really.
But things change. First we began to get word of an impressive performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker. Than we started seeing footage of the film itself. Then, in January, Heath Ledger died unexpectedly and tragically, making The Dark Knight his last completely finished film. An amazing, all star cast featuring a possible Oscar worthy performance by an up-and-coming Hollywood star cut down in his prime led by one of Hollywood’s most talented new generation directors was plenty to gain the world’s attention.
Added to that, however, was an absolutely ingenious marketing campaign that never once took advantage of the Ledger tragedy but never shied away from featuring his performance or character either. The icing on the cake has been the astonishingly glowing reviews that have been coming in ever so slowly by an ordinarily pessimistic media.
So now we are faced with the big question. Just how big can The Dark Knight be? In a summer that’s already seen a movie that should have been the most anticipated film of the decade (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – $100M opening weekend) barely beat the opening weekend gross of a second tier comic book character (Iron Man – $98.6M opening weekend) no one really seems to know what to expect from the Caped Crusader.
The opening weekend record was set just last year when Spider-Man 3 hit theaters across the country on the first weekend of May (the same weekend as Iron Man this year). That film smashed the $135M opening weekend record held by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (set in July of 2006) by bringing in box office sales to the tune of $151M. Can The Dark Knight do more?
The excitement and hype surrounding Indiana Jones and Iron Man earlier this summer was intense and their opening weekends proved as much, but I don’t think the excitement and buzz around those movies was anything like what we’re seeing for The Dark Knight right now. As Mike reported the other day, IMAX theaters have sold out so many of their midnight and 3:00 a.m. showings for the July 18th opening that they are adding 6:00 a.m. screenings of the film and 38% of the people polled by Fandango said they intended to take some or all of July 18th off to see the film. Incredible.
Warner Bros. is telling anyone who will listen that they only expect the film to bring in around $90M to $100M on opening weekend citing all the competition in the theaters right now. I think that’s just crazy. Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily does too. Nikki’s sources are predicting closer to $130M for the weekend. I’m not sure I’m buying that either, though.
The thing is, I remember when Spider-Man 3 came out last year and I just don’t remember people being THIS hyped to see that movie. Sure, there were a lot of kids who wanted to go see it and there were a lot of parents who took them and a lot of teenagers and such, but people weren’t camping out so see Spider-Man 3 and theaters weren’t showing 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. screenings of the film on opening day. I realize that The Dark Knight has a 2 hour and 32 minute running time which may cause it to have a few less showings than Spider-Man 3, but I can’t imagine that the grosses aren’t going to be at least close to those record setting numbers Spider-Man 3 put up.
The interest surrounding The Dark Knight is just so incredibly intense right now… On July 1st, for example, we posted a little article entitled My New Favorite Poster for “The Dark Knight.” Now, it is a really cool poster, but would anyone believe that that one article has already gotten over 72,000 pageviews? Those are crazy numbers for a single article on this site right now, but very indicative of the kind of interest people have in this movie.
If I had to guess, I would say that The Dark Knight has an incredibly good chance of breaking the record for opening weekend gross. It might not, but I’d be really surprised if it doesn’t at least give Spider-Man 3 a run for it’s money. I’ll go out on a limb and say that a weekend gross of $165-175M could be possible.
What do you think?