Weekend Box Office (July 20 - 22, 2012)
THIS WEEKEND Capping off the summer of super heroes, the Caped Crusader returns to theaters Friday in one of the most anticipated blockbusters in years, The Dark Knight Rises, which aims to break some box office records. Fear filled the hallways at rival studios as no other wide release has dared to go up against the Christopher Nolan juggernaut which will pull in huge numbers from every demographic. The final installment of the popular filmmaker's trilogy opens Friday in 4,404 locations which is the second widest in history behind the 4,468 of 2010's The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. A very high 3,700 sites will begin playing the film at midnight Thursday night and 332 locations will have the PG-13 pic on IMAX. With the London Olympics kicking off next week, the international roll-out will be more limited with just 17 territories launching this weekend.
Much is being made about whether or not Rises can beat the new opening weekend record of $207.4M set in May by The Avengers. But the fact is, it doesn't have to. These are two different films, two different private ventures, which will make their profits at two different times. Both will be just fine. Only in the world of box office bragging rights are they competitors. In actuality, it is very likely that Rises will attract a larger crowd on opening weekend, but Avengers will have the bigger gross thanks to the 3D surcharges which added roughly $30M to that figure. Both have brisk business from higher-priced IMAX venues but without 3D, it would be incredibly difficult - though not impossible - for The Dark Knight Rises to generate a larger opening weekend gross than The Avengers.
There are two main reasons why some people who saw The Dark Knight on opening weekend may skip this time. The buzz surrounding Heath Ledger's death is no longer a factor. That certainly contributed to the interest in TDK last time, especially with adult women who are the least reliable demo for super hero flicks. Also, the new film's primary villain Bane is not as widely known as The Joker.
But more than compensating for these losses are other factors that will lead to growth. Firstly there are four years of ticket price increases. The same exact audience coming out now would boost The Dark Knight's $158.4M opening weekend into the high $170M range. A larger IMAX footprint will help too especially since more of the movie was shot with those cameras this time. Moviegoers will truly get more value for their money, especially on the 70mm screens. In addition, the last film created enormous amounts of good will which this chapter will take advantage of. Dark Knight wasn't a one-week wonder. It had great legs winning over new audiences later in its run. A whopping 70% of its gargantuan $533.3M domestic total was made after the first weekend. So people who discovered it after the first three days will this time want to be part of the opening weekend extravaganza. And with social media being a larger part of life now, people will not want to be left out of the hottest pop culture conversation around.
Also, Nolan is a much bigger draw now. Four years ago, he had a nice fan base and had good marks coming off of Batman Begins. But after Dark Knight and then Inception, he has now become arguably the most popular Hollywood director around. That extra starpower will help Rises. Finally, the buzz surrounding this being the final chapter of the Nolan-Bale interpretation of Batman is creating a sense of urgency. Fans will never have another slice of this again so there is a need to go see this now on the big screen. All of these factors will ensure that the opening for Rises beats that of its predecessor and at the very least, sets a new record for the biggest debut ever for a 2D film. TDK still holds that one - for a couple of more days.
With the Gotham regulars back like Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman plus the addition of Inception graduates Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, and Marion Cotillard, The Dark Knight Rises once again offers a stellar cast that will please fanboys and general audiences alike. Anne Hathaway's casting as a certain cat burglar in skin-tight leather should broaden the appeal too.
When looking at weekends of this magnitude, it becomes crucial to examine the daily breakdowns and the likely daily declines. Each day for films like these can be larger than entire weekends for other high-profile tentpoles. The obvious comp for Rises would be The Dark Knight which bowed this same weekend four years ago with the same type of mid-July Friday release in only slightly fewer theaters. That record-breaker opened to $67.2M Friday (including $18.5M from Thursday night midnights), then dropped 29% to $47.7M Saturday, and then held up astonishingly well on Sunday dipping a scant 9% to $43.6M. That Sunday hold was a key factor in achieving the biggest opening weekend ever, at the time.
Rises should surely do much better on Friday. Consumer demand and excitement this time are heightened. Plus there is more of a push on the midnight shows in the advertising and with the large number of theaters offering them. And over the past four years, Twilight and Harry Potter films have made midnight moviegoing more common. Scores of die-hard fans will be walking out of multiplexes at 3:00 a.m. Rises could conceivably beat the $80.8M opening day of The Avengers, despite not having any 3D juice, and reach the mid-to-high 80s.
But as the weekend progresses, word-of-mouth will play a crucial role in steering the direction of the grosses. With more midnight business added into Friday's tally, look for Rises to suffer a larger fall on Saturday than its predecessor. Plus the comparisons to Dark Knight will be inevitable as expectations are sky high. Maybe too high. That is one tough act to follow. If people feel that Rises does not raise the bar set by TDK, or if they can't understand Bane half the time, or if they feel the film is too long, then the instantaneous buzz that spreads will shave millions of potential dollars off of Saturday and Sunday. Saturday may fall to the low 50s and the Sunday hold won't see lightning striking twice. The final day of the weekend may slide down to the low 40s. Of course, if fans go gaga and make return trips within the weekend, it can play out very differently. Certainly many fans have become activists online supporting their candidate Nolan in every way possible hoping for box office glory.
The Dark Knight Rises has a more clear field in the marketplace compared to the last two installments of the series. TDK faced five other films hitting double-digit millions while Rises will only have three to worry about. Studios knew they would be crushed by the new Batman so they programmed a grand total of just one rival wide release over the two mid-July frames - the latest Ice Age which plays much younger. With all eyes, ears, and cash registers focused on just one film this weekend, The Dark Knight Rises might open with around $184M and shatter the $200M mark on Monday.
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Far, far behind Batman will be a collection of holdovers fighting over scraps. Leading the way should be the 3D animated sequel Ice Age: Continental Drift which will try to play as counter-programming to all those younger children that parents don't want subjected to Bane's homicidal brutality. But as a fourth film in a franchise, the target audience should know upfront if it wants to come out or not and the debut was mild for an A-list toon brand. Look for a 50% fall to about $23M giving Fox $91M in ten days.
With a new and bigger super hero in town, The Amazing Spider-Man will get kicked around a bit following what was a solid sophomore hold. Sony may see sales get sliced in half to around $17M pushing the cume to $235M. The hit comedy Ted will finally see a sizable drop since its core crowd of men will be taken away by the Caped Crusader. Still, a 45% slide would result in a $12M frame and a terrific new total of $184M on its way to the double-century club.
For a NEW review of The Dark Knight Rises visit The Chief Report.
LAST YEAR Super hero fans lined up for the Marvel pic Captain America: The First Avenger which bowed at number one with $65.1M on its way to $176.7M domestically and $369M worldwide for Paramount. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 tumbled 72% in its second weekend and claimed the runnerup spot with $47.4M sending its ten-day total to a mammoth $273.5M. Sony debuted its romantic comedy Friends With Benefits in the number three slot with $18.6M heading to a $55.8M final. Rounding out the top five were Transformers: Dark of the Moon with $12.1M and Horrible Bosses with $11.9M.
This column is updated three times each week: Thursday (upcoming weekend's summary), Sunday (post-weekend analysis with estimates), and Monday night (actuals). Opinions expressed in this column are those solely of the author.
Last Updated: July 19, 2012 at 12:40PM ET
Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.