Weekend Box Office (July 18 - 20, 2008)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The eagerly awaited new Batman film The Dark Knight broke the all-time opening weekend box office record and drove the overall North American marketplace to the largest frame in history with moviegoers dumping over $260M into theater cash registers over three days. The new musical Mamma Mia! managed to connect with its non-superhero fan base and posted a strong opening of its own in Knight's shadow while the animated comedy Space Chimps debuted to mild numbers. After back-to-back weekends when ticket sales were softer than last year's, the box office soared to heights never before seen.

Records fell this weekend thanks to sky high demand to see the latest Caped Crusader vehicle The Dark Knight which hauled in a jaw-dropping $158.4M over the Friday-to-Sunday, according to final studio figures, period to set a new industry benchmark. Averaging a stunning $36,283 from 4,366 theaters, the PG-13 comic book flick flew past the previous opening weekend record of $151.1M held by another superhero sequel Spider-Man 3 from the first weekend of May last year. The Peter Parker pic even had more total screens with roughly 10,000 which was about 800 more than Knight's tally. Batman's gross included $18.5M from Thursday night shows between midnight and 3am which also set a record beating the $16.9M of 2005's Star Wars Episode III. Critics piled on praise for the $180M-budgeted Dark Knight which scored some of the best reviews of the year.

The new Batman film reunited director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale who successfully rebooted the franchise with 2005's Batman Begins after the series was left for dead after 1997's disastrous Batman & Robin starring George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Begins opened on a Wednesday in mid-June with $48.7M over three days and $72.9M over its five-day opening period leading to a solid $205.3M domestic final. The Dark Knight will surpass that mark in under a week's time. Veteran character actors Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman also returned while Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Heath Ledger joined the cast. Ledger's acclaimed performance as The Joker became a magnet attracting millions of comic and action fans and his accidental death in January only heightened the curiosity factor making the must-see film of 2008.

The Dark Knight blew open the bank vault door on Friday and made off with an eye-popping $67.2M (including Thursday night midnight sales) smashing the records for best opening day and best single day gross ever. Both of those marks were held by Spider-Man 3 with $59.8M. Sales fell sharply on Saturday by 29% to $47.7M, still an amazing haul, and Warner Bros.reported a final Sunday gross that was stronger than originally estimated with a dip of only 9% to $43.6M. Knight's Saturday was the second best ever trailing the Spidey threequel's $51.3M while Sunday was yet another new record. Rival studios on Sunday projected a three-day tally between $151-153M but ticket sales on Sunday ended up even higher than forecast.

Also adding excitement to the film's release was the fact that Dark Knight was the first regular movie to use IMAX cameras during filming. Six action sequences were shot with the heavy-duty equipment allowing those who see the film in IMAX theaters a greater entertainment experience. This helped Knight set a new record for biggest IMAX opening with $6.3M from 94 venues this weekend for a scorching $67,000 average. Ticket prices are also higher for the large screen format.

After just three days of release, The Dark Knight is already the sixth biggest blockbuster of the summer and is virtually guaranteed to swipe the 2008 box office crown away from Iron Man in the coming weeks. With all students out of school in July, midweek grosses will be much stronger than in early May when the metal man and the last webslinger pic debuted.

This weekend's achievement was nothing new for the Caped Crusader. In fact, Dark Knight is the fourth Batman film to break the all-time opening weekend record. The first Batman did the deed in 1989 with its $42.7M bow at a time when no film had ever debuted to $30M, much less $40M, over a three-day weekend. That record stayed for three years and was broken in 1992 by Batman Returns which bowed to $47.7M. Jurassic Park would swipe the record the following summer but Batman Forever took the title back with its $52.8M launch in 1995. All three Batman films opened in mid-June.

Warner Bros. did not opt for a global attack with The Dark Knight, but it did release the superhero pic in 20 markets this weekend and grossed an estimated $41.3M from 4,500 international screens led by Australia's $14.1M over five days. Many European markets open this coming weekend including Italy and the United Kingdom while Asia's top markets Japan and Korea will launch in early August.

Led by the staggering sales for the new Batman-Joker feud, the overall box office soared to more than $260M in ticket sales making it the best weekend in movie history. The previous high was $218.4M over the July 7-9, 2006 frame when Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest bowed to a then-record $135.6M. Studios are hoping that the roughly 37 million moviegoers who saw trailers and posters at multiplexes this weekend will keep coming back in the weeks ahead for more summer films.

Be sure to check BoxOfficeGuru.com all week for continued daily coverage of The Dark Knight's record-breaking opening week.

Opening in second place with a solid showing of its own was the Meryl Streep-led musical Mamma Mia! which bowed to $27.8M for Universal. The PG-13 film averaged a stellar $9,325 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.

Mamma Mia! has already been playing to sell-out crowds overseas over the last two weeks. This weekend, the $65M production bowed at number one in seven new territories including Germany and displayed great holds in existing markets like Australia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom to total an estimated $26.8M weekend take. That propelled the international cume to $72.6M and the global gross to $100M with much more to come.

Falling one spot was Will Smith's own take on being a superhero, Hancock, which tumbled 56% to $14M in its third outing. The Sony blockbuster has grossed a sturdy $191.5M in 19.5 days and is still following the same path as 2005's Independence Day weekend offering War of the Worlds which had taken in $192.4M by the same point. That Tom Cruise pic finished its run with $234M and Hancock looks likely to end up with just under that amount. Globally, Smith's latest zoomed to $445M and will crash through the half-billion barrier in a week.

The 3D adventure tale Journey to the Center of the Earth enjoyed a great hold despite the arrival of Batman and slipped only 41% in its second weekend to $12.3M. New Line's final film has now taken in a solid $43.5M for distributor Warner Bros. and could be headed for a $75-80M final tally. The PG-rated Brendan Fraser film cost $60M to produce.

Last weekend's superhero champ Hellboy II: The Golden Army got hit hardest by the folks of Gotham City. The Universal comic book actioner tumbled 71% to $10.1M dropping from first to fifth place. After ten days, the $85M production has collected $56.5M putting it just shy of the $59M that 2004's Hellboy grossed during its entire run. Hellboy II should find its way to about $75M and become the summer's only number one opener to not reach the $100M mark.

The animated wonder WALL•E declined by 46% and ranked sixth with $10.1M. Disney and Pixar have pushed the tally up to $182.7M and are hoping to keep going towards the $215M mark which should eventually put it slightly ahead of Kung Fu Panda to become the year's top-grossing toon.

Fox saw an uneventful seventh-place bow for its animated offering Space Chimps which debuted to $7.2M. Playing in 2,511 theaters, the G-rated pic about, well... chimps in space, averaged a mild $2,860 per location. Fox has struggled this summer and remains the only one of the six major studios without a $100M hit this season. The studio's hopes are pinned to this Friday's launch of The X-Files: I Want to Believe which will try to persuade the bat-crowds to come its way.

Angelina Jolie's Wanted dropped 58% to $5.1M giving Universal $123.3M to date. Warner Bros. followed with Get Smart which took in $4.1M, off 43%, for a $119.6M sum for Warner Bros. Paramount's Kung Fu Panda rounded out the top ten with $1.9M in its seventh frame dropping 58% pushing the total to $206.6M.

Click here to see the current Top Ten Summer 2008 Blockbusters list.

The top ten films grossed a record $251M which was up a stellar 75% from last year when I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry opened in the top spot with $34.2M; and up an astounding 82% from 2006 when Dead Man's Chest spent a third weekend at number one with $35.2M.

Compared to projections, The Dark Knight flew higher than my $132M forecast while Mamma Mia! bowed on target with my $28M prediction. Space Chimps opened above my $5M projection.

For a NEW review of The Dark Knight visit The Chief Report.

Check back on Tuesday to find out the winners of last Friday's The Dark Knight prediction contest. Several hundred readers from around the world entered but only three winners will recieve a free CD soundtrack to the new chart-topping blockbuster.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The X-Files: I Want to Believe and Step Brothers both launch.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Jul 18 - 20 Jul 11 - 13 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Dark Knight $ 158,411,483 4,366 1 $ 36,283 $ 158,411,483 Warner Bros.
2 Mamma Mia! 27,751,240 2,976 1 9,325 27,751,240 Universal
3 Hancock 14,040,178 32,080,560 -56.2 3,776 3 3,718 191,543,979 Sony
4 Journey to the Center of the Earth 12,340,435 21,018,141 -41.3 2,830 2 4,361 43,504,712 New Line
5 Hellboy II: The Golden Army 10,117,815 34,539,115 -70.7 3,212 2 3,150 56,526,885 Universal
6 WALL•E 10,070,396 18,793,588 -46.4 3,310 4 3,042 182,732,709 Buena Vista
7 Space Chimps 7,181,374 2,511 1 2,860 7,181,374 Fox
8 Wanted 5,072,805 11,996,175 -57.7 2,433 4 2,085 123,322,635 Universal
9 Get Smart 4,125,021 7,201,376 -42.7 2,135 5 1,932 119,608,695 Warner Bros.
10 Kung Fu Panda 1,860,854 4,411,412 -57.8 1,505 7 1,236 206,616,381 Paramount
11 Meet Dave 1,659,424 5,251,918 -68.4 3,011 2 551 9,398,409 Fox
12 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom... 955,846 2,260,327 -57.7 757 9 1,263 312,569,461 Paramount
13 Kit Kittredge: An American Girl 951,358 2,303,054 -58.7 769 5 1,237 13,769,304 Picturehouse
14 Sex and the City 721,152 1,603,396 -55.0 515 8 1,400 149,870,455 New Line
15 The Incredible Hulk 626,515 2,324,345 -73.0 656 6 955 131,767,165 Universal
16 Iron Man 451,838 939,134 -51.9 375 12 1,205 314,376,968 Paramount
17 Tell No One 400,947 248,674 61.2 55 3 7,290 1,057,050 Music Box
18 You Don't Mess With the Zohan 365,667 1,071,854 -65.9 261 7 1,401 97,736,720 Sony
19 Kismat Konnection 282,122 62 1 4,550 282,122 UTV
20 Mongol 257,411 532,439 -51.7 195 7 1,320 4,867,490 Picturehouse
Top 5 $ 222,661,151 $ 118,427,579 88.0
Top 10 250,971,601 139,919,684 79.4
Top 20 257,643,881 148,115,682 73.9
Top 20 vs. 2007 257,643,881 150,703,013 71.0

Last Updated: July 21, 2008 at 10:30PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Friday at 9:50am ET.