Monday, July 21, 2008

1989... 1992... 1995... 2008 (plus a history of the opening weekend)

When I was growing up, there was no bigger franchise than Batman. When it came to box-office records, especially short term records, there was Batman and then there was everyone else. So, it is with great pleasure that I again witness my favorite characters reclaim the crown, to reclaim the records that they more or less invented. Yes, ladies and gents, The Dark Knight has now claimed the record for...
the biggest midnight gross - $18.5 million
the biggest single day ever - $66 million
the biggest opening day ever - $66 million
the biggest Friday ever - $66 million
the biggest Sunday ever - $43 million
the biggest three-day IMAX opening weekend ever - $6.2 million
the biggest total three-day opening weekend ever - $158 million

It's Saturday total ($48 million) was the number two Saturday behind Spider-Man 3's $53 million. Can't have em all I guess. Now, who knows how long these records will hold up? A history of the modern opening weekend... from Batman to The Dark Knight.

Back in 1989, the opening weekend record was literally broken 3 times in a month, as of course 1989 was the first modern summer of mega-openers and somewhat quick-playing theatrical runs. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade broke $29.3 million over Memorial Day weekend ($37 million over the five days). Ghostbusters II broke $29.4 million in the middle of June. And, one week later, Tim Burton's Batman rode a six-month tidal wave of unprecedented hype to became the first modern blockbuster (in ways both good and bad) with a whopping $42 million in three days. Over the next eight years, that record would be broken four times. Batman Returns scored $46 million in June of 1992, Jurassic Park used advance-night Thursday screenings to cross the $50 million mark in 1993, and Batman Forever reclaimed the crown with $53 million in 1995 (scoring on Friday the first $20 million single day). Then, finally, in 1997, The Lost World: Jurassic Park stole the record right back with a towering $72 million over the Fri-Sun portion of its Memorial Day weekend opening (total for four days - a seemingly insurmountable $90 million - with a record $26 million on Sunday).

That record held for 4.5 years, bettering even such sure-fire record breakers as Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace (it's five day opening pulled in a then-record $106 million, but the Fri-Sun portion netted a 'mere' $65 million). The record finally fell in November, 2001, to Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, which netted a whopping (but more or less expected) $91 million in three days (it's $32 million opening Friday was the first single day to nab $30 million+). That record stood for a mere six months, before Sony shocked the living hell out of everyone and steered Spider-Man to a mammoth $114 million over three days (its Saturday scored the first $40 million+ single day). Stan Lee to this day complains that Batman co-creator Bob Kane never lived to see Spider-Man whup Batman's ass (Kane died in 1998). For comparison, in 13 years, we had gone from a record $42 million weekend to a record $43 million single day.

That stunning result (and really, at that time, it was an incredible and unexpected feat, resembling the excitement of the first Batman's record three day run) lasted a surprising four years. Surely, had certain movies opened on Friday instead of Wednesday or Thursday, the record would have fallen sooner. The Matrix Reloaded, The Passion Of The Christ, Spider-Man 2, Shrek 2 and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith... any of those five possibly would have broken the opening weekend record had they not opened on Wednesday or Thursday. In fact, Revenge Of The Sith's first three days were a then-record $126 million, but that was Thursday to Saturday (its opening Thursday broke the $50 million single day mark). The record breaker came in July 2006, when Pirates Of The Caribbean 2: Dead Man's Chest rode a tidal wave of audience goodwill towards the first installment to a $135 million opening three-day. The original film was a leggy word of mouth smash, parlaying a $73 million five-day opening to a $303 million finish. As is often the case when films build slowly through word of mouth, the sequel exploded out of the gate. The record would stand for less than a year, until Spider-Man 3 opened summer 2007 with a colossal $151 million. Alas, no one liked the film and it collapsed quickly, still winning the year with $337 million.

But now, be it due to a dark and tantalizing marketing campaign, audience goodwill over the much-liked Batman Begins, the general popularity of The Joker, the early critical raves, or the curiosity involving the death of Heath Ledger... or a likely combination of all of that... The Dark Knight has, at least for the moment, returned Batman back to its place at the top of the box office mantle. This really was a perfect storm for Warner Bros, with the studio daring to market this $180 million picture to an older audience, with a quote-filled ad campaign ('Why So Serious?' will soon become a catchphrase) that capitalized on the both revitalized and faithful interpretation of The Joker. While Warner will never admit it, Heath Ledger's death early this year was a lucky break, giving the picture tons of free publicity and making the film more of an event than it already was. The board was set, the pieces were in play, and the film itself delivered in spades. Uh, take that Stan Lee? How about... mazel tov, Jerry Robinson!

Whether The Dark Knight will keep any for any of the above records for any length of time is in question. Depending on if they choose to open on Fridays, a few titles have a chance to break this stunning number before the inevitable third Batman film is released. Among the contenders - Transformers 2, Iron Man 2, the final Harry Potter films, Spider-Man 4, and The Avengers. But for the moment, Bat geeks and fans of quality genre film making can rejoice. The record is finally being held by a movie that most people actually really like (something that hasn't happened since Spider-Man back in 2002).

Not to be completely outdone, Mama Mia opened to $27.7 million, just $400,000 more than Hairspray, thus besting the record for the best opening for a live-action musical. While it's probable that The Dark Knight and Mama Mia each lost a few bucks by competing against each other, Universal did a terrific job of counter programming. Alas, for Universal, the real casualty this weekend was the exceptional Hellboy II, which lost all of its geek audience to the tune of a record 71% drop in weekend two (biggest drop for any movie opening over $19 million). Although it'll pass Hellboy 1's $59 million gross in a few days, $100 million is now out of reach. It'll do just fine on DVD, but it's a shame that this terrific genre entry had to be cut down by an equally good comic book adventure's ascent.

Stay tuned for more as we see how quickly The Dark Knight can race to $200 million and whether the alleged 64% of those polled on Fandango will keep their word about seeing it again. Come what may, it's a good thing that The X-Files: I Want To Believe only cost $35 million.

Scott Mendelson


Kyle Leaman said...

Great opening weekend recap! I went to re-view the film this past Monday and the theatre was packed! I was surprised to see Box Office Mojo had The Dark Knight around 24 million for monday and that Knight's 4 Day was way out in front of Spider-Man 3. So with this kind of an opening, what do you think would be a good guestimate of the final gross?

Scott Mendelson said...

The sheer sliver of the drop from Sunday to Monday is incredibly impressive, yet I hesitate to be overly optimistic despite my excitement. At this point, a 'realistic' final gross would be about Pirates 2/Shrek 2 numbers (between $420 million and $440 million). If things don't change, it's plausible that it'll hit $300 million by the end of this weekend. We'll have a clearer idea of long-term prospects by the end of weekend three (when it goes up against The Mummy 3). I seriously doubt that Titanic is in any jeopardy, but $400 million is all but certain at this point.

Scott Mendelson


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