Weekend Box Office (July 20 - 22, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND The long-awaited super hero sequel The Dark Knight Rises claimed the worldwide box office crown under a dark cloud caused by a mass murderer's attack on one of the film's Thursday night post-midnight showings in Aurora, Colorado. Warner Bros., which did not report box office estimates over the weekend in light of the tragedy, announced on Monday that the final film in Christopher Nolan's wildly popular Batman trilogy grossed $160.9M over the Friday-to-Sunday period making it the third largest opening weekend of all-time and the best ever for a 2D pic. Only The Avengers and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 debuted better with $207.4M and $169.2M, respectively. Both were offered in 3D with grosses including the extra 3D surcharges. All three opened in IMAX locations. The previous 2D record was held by The Dark Knight which launched with $158.4M in July 2008.

Though it is almost impossible to measure for sure, it did seem that the tragedy had a negative impact on ticket sales for Rises over the weekend. Understandably, some potential moviegoers may not have been in the mood to go out and see the Bane flick, or any other movie for that matter. Pre-release expectations had the PG-13 film opening north of the $180M mark which itself would have been roughly equal to the same size opening weekend audience that The Dark Knight attracted, but paying today's 2D and large-format ticket prices.

While the curiosity over Heath Ledger's performance was no longer a factor this time, Rises still should have benefited from the massive good will that its predecessor created. When a franchise film is so well-liked, its followup usually opens bigger - especially if the release pattern is the same. Iron Man, which like the same summer's TDK had great legs with 70% of the final gross coming after the first weekend, saw its sequel open on the very same frame two years later with a 30% higher gross. Plus Nolan brought more starpower into the weekend this time than he did in 2008 with fans loving both Knight and 2010's Inception. Also, the buzz surrounding TDKR being the final Batman saga from the Nolan-Bale camp also added to the excitement.

However, signs indicate that The Dark Knight Rises could eventually pick up much of the lost business in the long term. While reviews were not as glowing as they were for the Joker flick, audiences that came out did approve giving Rises a solid A grade from CinemaScore. And threequels usually burn through their audience faster but the Saturday-to-Sunday decline was almost as powerful as that of the 2008 installment which could be due to some fans shifting from the beginning of the weekend to the end as more time passed since the terrorist attack occurred. Overall, roughly 18 million people across North America went out and saw The Dark Knight Rises in theaters over the weekend.

Both Rises and the last Dark Knight had similar release patterns. Both bowed on Fridays in mid-July, had no 3D surcharges, and had IMAX runs. The new film opened to $75.8M on Friday including $30.6M in Thursday night post-midnight shows. That resulted in the second best midnight launch after the final Potter's $43.5M and the third biggest opening day ever trailing Potter ($91.1M) and The Avengers ($80.8M). The first-day result was 13% better than the $67.2M of TDK. At the time, the Two Face chapter broke the all-time records for midnights, opening day, and opening weekend.

Saturday sales for Rises fell 41% to $44.9M. That was a bigger fall than the 29% that the last chapter suffered. Given the bigger midnight gross component in Friday's take and the fact that it was a threequel with more upfront demand, the larger Saturday drop was expected. But Sunday for TDKR dipped only 11% to $40.2M. The 2008 pic eased just 9% that day so for the followup to be so close is a positive sign for the longevity of Rises.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the tragedy which left 12 people dead and 58 others wounded, it was impossible to determine exactly how much of an effect the event had on nationwide moviegoing. Many potential moviegoers planning a trip to the local cinema may have changed their minds, understandably so. No previous tragedy in recent times has had this direct of a connection to moviegoing. The attacks on September 11 - a very different type of catastrophe - occurred on a Tuesday during what is usually the slowest time of the year at the box office and the new movie releases scheduled for that Friday were small titles anyway. The Aurora shooting took place inside a movie theater during the first midnight showing of one of the year's most anticipated blockbusters killing innocent people who just came out to watch a fun summer film with friends and relatives.

For the whole weekend, Rises played in 4,404 theaters making it the second widest opening ever behind just the 4,468 of 2010's The Twilight Saga: Eclipse. The weekend average was a sensational $36,532. 332 locations featured IMAX screens and those venues contributed a whopping $19M this weekend, or 12% of the weekend gross, for a scorching $57,263 average. An hour of the film featured footage shot with IMAX cameras - double that of TDK.

The Dark Knight Rises is getting a slower roll-out overseas than its super hero counterparts The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man which both launched in much of the world a week ahead of North America. The Catwoman pic debuted in 17 markets and grossed a spectacular $88M this weekend (including $4.8M from IMAX screens) making for a huge $248.9M global bow. Leading territories were the United Kingdom with $22.5M, Korea with $15.7M, and Australia with $15.5M. 40 more countries debut this coming weekend simultaneously with the kick-off of the London Olympics.

Falling a sharp 56% in its second weekend was the animated fourquel Ice Age: Continental Drift with $20.4M. Fox has banked $88.8M in the first ten days which just about matched the $87.3M that the first film in the franchise grossed at this point in its run ten years ago when ticket prices were much lower and no 3D boost was there. The last installment, 2009's Dawn of the Dinosaurs, stood at $100.6M after ten days in July of that year on its way to $196.6M. But this series has flourished overseas and Drift has been no exception boosting its international sum to a fantastic $442.7M for a worldwide haul so far of $531.5M on its way to $750M or more depending on how it holds up against the Olympics.

With Batman swinging into theaters, The Amazing Spider-Man took an amazing tumble. The big-budget Sony reboot collapsed by 69% in its third weekend taking in $10.9M giving the 3D actioner $228.6M after 20 days of release. Overseas business rose to $386M for a global gross of $614.6M to date. $750M is possible on this 3D title too. Falling 55% in its fourth round was the comedy sensation Ted which collected another $10M lifting the cume to an astounding $180.4M. Universal should find its way past the $200M mark with this Mark Wahlberg starrer.

Pixar's Brave surpassed Madagascar 3 this weekend to become the summer's top toon. The Disney release grossed $6M, off 46%, bumping the cume to $208.8M. Paramount's afro circus sequel from DreamWorks Animation has banked $207.6M domestically so far. Dropping 56% to sixth place with $4.3M was the Channing Tatum hit Magic Mike which joined the century club with $102M taken in to date.

Oliver Stone's violent crime drama Savages plunged 64% to $3.4M for $40.1M so far for Universal. Lionsgate followed with its comedy Madea's Witness Protection which grossed $2.3M, down 60%, putting the pic at $60.3M.

Wes Anderson collected $1.8M for his hit Moonrise Kingdom, off 51%, bringing the total to $36.1M after its ninth weekend for Focus. Fellow American auteur Woody Allen saw his comedy To Rome with Love drop 43% to $1.4M in its fifth frame boosting the cume for the Sony Classics title to $11.1M.

Among new platform releases, Magnolia's The Queen of Versailles bowed to an estimated $54,000 from just three locations for a solid $18,000 average. The well-reviewed 3D pic Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai debuted to an estimated $12,275 from solo playdates in New York and Los Angeles (with most business coming from the Gotham house) averaging $6,138 for Tribeca Film. Internationally, Paramount's The Dictator joined the century club with an overseas total to date of $101.8M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $221.4M which was up 24% from last year when Captain America: The First Avenger opened at number one with $65.1M; and up 47% from 2010 when Inception remained on top with $42.7M.

Compared to projections, The Dark Knight Rises opened below my $184M forecast.

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Check the UPDATED charts for the Top Opening Weekends and Top Opening Days of All-Time.

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

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Watch and Step Up Revolution both open.

# Title Jul 20 - 22 Jul 13 - 15 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Dark Knight Rises $ 160,887,295 4,404 1 $ 36,532 $ 160,887,295 Warner Bros.
2 Ice Age: Continental Drift 20,416,978 46,629,259 -56.2 3,886 2 5,254 88,840,284 Fox
3 The Amazing Spider-Man 10,887,111 34,628,104 -68.6 3,753 3 2,901 228,611,425 Sony
4 Ted 10,011,610 22,410,855 -55.3 3,214 4 3,115 180,431,425 Universal
5 Brave 6,024,987 11,160,522 -46.0 2,899 5 2,078 208,774,173 Disney
6 Magic Mike 4,291,432 9,021,123 -52.4 2,606 4 1,647 101,966,459 Warner Bros.
7 Savages 3,398,880 9,393,840 -63.8 2,336 3 1,455 40,055,075 Universal
8 Madea's Witness Protection 2,253,074 5,584,027 -59.7 1,540 4 1,463 60,289,622 Lionsgate
9 Moonrise Kingdom 1,831,471 3,704,507 -50.6 895 9 2,046 36,087,959 Focus
10 To Rome With Love 1,420,891 2,469,235 -42.5 552 5 2,574 11,107,993 Sony Classics
11 Madagascar 3 1,350,946 3,669,675 -63.2 1,261 7 1,071 207,626,201 Paramount
12 Katy Perry: Part of Me 1,148,494 3,800,607 -69.8 1,123 3 1,023 22,612,706 Paramount
13 Beasts of the Southern Wild 763,443 790,535 -3.4 129 4 5,918 2,855,142 Fox Searchlight
14 The Avengers 620,411 1,398,765 -55.6 495 12 1,253 615,058,425 Disney
15 Snow White and the Huntsman 427,405 1,022,270 -58.2 409 8 1,045 152,589,315 Universal
16 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 416,791 651,051 -36.0 288 12 1,447 43,852,771 Fox Searchlight
17 The Intouchables 313,547 356,333 -12.0 91 9 3,446 7,072,702 Weinstein Co.
18 Prometheus 310,395 978,655 -68.3 312 7 995 125,113,489 Fox
19 Rock of Ages 282,945 271,991 4.0 322 6 879 37,966,459 Warner Bros.
20 Men in Black 3 260,264 875,835 -70.3 266 9 978 175,476,727 Sony
Top 5 $ 208,227,981 $ 124,222,580 67.6
Top 10 221,423,729 150,002,519 47.6
Top 20 227,318,370 160,106,264 42.0
Top 20 vs. 2011 227,318,370 185,871,722 22.3

Last Updated: July 23, 2012 at 11:15PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.