Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Space Chimps rockets to $9 million in five days. The Dark Knight does $203 million in same.

First of all, Mama Mia is already trailing Hairspray by about $30,000. And Space Chimps continues its epic quest to $25 million (it'll cross $10 million today). Oh, and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull is about $1.4 million away from surpassing Iron Man in the battle for, um... soon to be second-highest grossing movie of the summer.

On that note...

Like the headline says, The Dark Knight has crossed the $200 million mark in a mere five days. Dropping a low 14.8%, The Dark Knight placed second on all-time Tuesday numbers with $20.8 million. Transformers made $27 million on Tuesday, its first full opening day (it had advance-night Monday night screenings starting at 8pm). By the time you read this, The Dark Knight will have surpassed Batman Begins' entire domestic total in just over five days. On Friday, it will likely out-gross the $251 million take of the original Tim Burton Batman, making it the highest grossing Batman film ever. Of course, adjusted for inflation, the original would have made about $433 million today... but hey, it's only Tuesday right? Amazing.

Frankly, in the era of the modern blockbuster, this is completely unprecedented. It's not just the sheer amount of money, but the speed and consistency of those large amounts. It broke the $200 million mark three days faster than the three previous record holders. It broke the record for best opening week with two days left to go. It'll likely make about $75 million from Mon-Thur, a total that only the very biggest blockbusters make on their opening weekend.

After a long, long absence from the top-tiers, Batman is finally acting like Batman. For comparison, mixing and matching the screen count and per-screen averages of Batman and The Dark Knight gets you $81 million for the first three days. Multiply that by 1.75 for inflation, then add $20 million for the Heath Ledger morbid curiosity factor and the front-loaded nature of today's business, and you've got The Dark Knight's opening weekend take almost to the dollar. Think inflation is too much? Consider that Batman cost $35 million back in 1989, 5.14x less than the $180 million budget of The Dark Knight. Each of the first three Batman films did unprecedented short-term damage to cash registers, so don't believe all the polls and pundits who give all the credit to Heath Ledger. Batman & Robin blew out due to infamous word of mouth and Batman Begins was just a trial run to get people back in the mood. If you make a good live-action Batman film, everyone will show up.

The difference is that none of the sequels had this kind of consistency. The sequels, specifically Batman Returns, pretty much invented the 'quick-kill blockbuster', in which a film opens huge, then plummets back to earth but still makes enough money in the first ten days to be considered a hit. Usually it's word of mouth, sometimes it's just a pent-up demand by a specific demographic that never spreads past the cult. Dropping 45-50% over your second weekend used to be a sign of distress. Now, it's called having legs. For comparison, in 1992, Batman Returns plunged 45% in its second-weekend and the panic bells sounded around the industry. In 2005, Batman Begins dropped 45% in its second weekend and everyone was relieved that it had legs and word of mouth following a softer than expected opening. But the word of mouth on this one is stunning and the numbers are barely dropping (hell, it only dropped 44% from Sunday to Monday, which is probably also a record for any mega-opening).

Obviously only an idiot would make long-term projections after five-days. Eventually, unless it's Titanic, and we shall assume it's not, it will eventually slow down. Spider-Man seemed a legitimate threat for number 01 after pulling in $223 million in 10 days. But, after a month Spidey lost momentum and limped to $405 million (it ended up number 5, which is where Batman ended up at the end of its run back in 1989). After it's $50 million+ second weekend, there were predictions that The Passion Of The Christ would threaten Titanic's all-time berth. Eventually, the faithful decided not to see it again and the film settled into a still-stunning $371 million.

I still believe to this day that had The Phantom Menace been well-liked by the geeks that it would have found that extra $170 million and crossed over (the perception was that everyone hated it yet it still made $431 million). And the sky would have been the limit had Pearl Harbor opened in November 2001 instead of May 2001. So, let's not start sending taunting letters to Jim Cameron just yet. No matter what, these numbers can't keep up because A) other geek-targeted films will flood the marketplace starting Friday and B) kids will be going back to college and school within the next forty-days.

Here are some fun numbers to chew on - The Dark Knight almost equaled Spider-Man's $114.844 million three-day weekend in just two days (by Saturday, it had $114.815 million). The Dark Knight can drop 53% next weekend and still cross the $73 million mark, which would set the record for a best second-weekend. And, if The Dark Knight drops the same 37% that Spidey dropped on its second weekend, we'll have the first $100 million non-opening weekend in history. Is that feasible? Not really (no more so than it equaling the 10% second-weekend drop of Twister or the 20% drop of Jurassic Park). Is it possible? Absolutely. Success feeds success. All of the free coverage will only make the mildly curious that much more likely to check it out.

Plausible numbers from here - $300 million in 10 days. $400 million in 17 days. The previous record is 44 days for Shrek 2, so don't panic if it takes a 'whopping' 25 days to make that meager $400 million. I will say with absolute certainty that it will be the highest grossing film of the year by this time next week, at least domestically (Batman films have a habit of being beaten internationally by Indiana Jones and Harry Potter). For now, anyway, Batfans and geeks alike are partying like it's 1989.

Scott Mendelson

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