With 'Dark Knight,' Hollywood's Brightest Weekend Ever

By David Germain
Associated Press
Monday, July 21, 2008

LOS ANGELES, July 20 -- Batman has sent Spidey packing as king of Hollywood's box office superheroes. "The Dark Knight" took in a record $155.34 million in its first weekend, topping the previous best of $151.1 million for "Spider-Man 3" in May 2007 and pacing Hollywood to its biggest weekend ever, according to studio estimates Sunday.

"We knew it would be big, but we never expected to dominate the marketplace like we did," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released "The Dark Knight." The movie should shoot past the $200 million mark by the end of the week, he said.

Hollywood set an overall revenue record of $253 million for a three-day weekend, beating the $218.4 million haul over the weekend of July 7, 2006, according to box office tracker Media by Numbers.

Given that admission prices are now higher, "Spider-Man 3" may have sold slightly more tickets than "The Dark Knight." At 2007's average price of $6.88, "Spider-Man 3" sold 21.96 million tickets over opening weekend. Media by Numbers estimates today's average movie prices at $7.08, which means "The Dark Knight" would have sold 21.94 million tickets.

Revenue totals for "The Dark Knight," which cost $185 million to make, could change when final numbers are released Monday.

The movie's release was preceded by months of buzz and speculation over the performance of the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, Batman's nemesis. Ledger, who died in January from an accidental prescription-drug overdose, played the Joker as a demonic presence, and his performance has prompted predictions that the role might earn him a posthumous Academy Award nomination.

"The average opening gross of the last five 'Batman' movies is $47 million. This tripled that, and for a reason," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers. "A big part of that was the Heath Ledger mystique and a phenomenal performance that absolutely deserves the excitement surrounding it."

"The Dark Knight" reunites director Christopher Nolan with his "Batman Begins" star Christian Bale, whose vigilante crime-fighter is taunted and tested by Ledger's Joker as the villain unleashes violence and chaos on the city of Gotham.

Overseas, "The Dark Knight" added $40 million in 20 countries where it also opened, including Mexico, Brazil and Ledger's native Australia. The film opens in Great Britain this weekend and rolls out to most of the rest of the world over the next few weeks.

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