When a heavily-anticipated film debuts alongside a mass murder that takes place during a midnight showing of said film, it's difficult to know how to analyze the opening weekend figures. Under normal circumstances, the fact that The Dark Knight Rises (trailer/review/spoiler thread) debuted with $160 million over the weekend would lend itself to the usual analysis, dealing with weekend multipliers, midnight-percentages, comparisons to The Dark Knight and other recent blockbusters, and a guesstimate in regards to final domestic outcome. But it is impossible for now to know what the effect of the shooting had on the film's short term or long term box office performance. So for the sake of this calculation, we will basically presume that the shooting had little quantifiable effect on the numbers. Quite frankly, looking over the data, I'm inclined to believe as much. The film did about as well, give-or-take, as it would have been expected to do. But the numbers, presuming little-to-no effect from Friday morning's tragedy, means that the third Chris Nolan Batman film was a slightly less anticipated affair than the last go-around, which will likely bode (comparatively) ill for long-term grosses. Basically, horror of horrors, The Dark Knight Rises might just perform like a normal quick-kill mega-blockbuster.
To wit, The Dark Knight Rises debuted with $30.4 million in midnight showings (second only to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II's $43 million midnight-haul) and ended its first complete Friday with $75 million, good for the third-biggest single day of all time, behind The Avengers ($80 million) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II ($91 million). Considering The Dark Knight Rises was in 2D, it surely sold more tickets on Friday than The Avengers and may have sold more than Harry Potter 7.2 (we'll know for sure in a few days). The film earned 40% of its Friday figure via midnight showings, just a bit higher than Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I ($24 million at midnight, $62 million on Friday = 38%) and just behind the all-time worst midnight-percentage opening days Harry Potter 7.2 ($43m/$91m = 45%) and Twilight Saga: Eclipse ($30m/$68m = 44%). But its raw 'regular business hours' Friday total was about $45 million, just below the $48m/$49m earned by the likes of Harry Potter 7.2, Spider-Man 3, and The Dark Knight. It's well below the $62 million earned during the 'regular business hours' Friday of The Avengers (which did just $18 million of its $80 million Friday at midnight), but merely being among the biggest isn't cause for condemnation.
Its $44.9 million Saturday gross means it dropped 41% from Friday, compared to the 29% that The Dark Knight dropped this time four years ago. It's also over $2 million less than The Dark Knight's first Saturday ($47 million), which again merely means that the film was an exceptionally anticipated (and thus heavily front-loaded) genre sequel. But it also means that it can't even claim the best Saturday of 2012, as The Hunger Games, coming off a $67 million Friday ($19 million at midnight) earned $50 million on its first Saturday four months ago. As it stands, $44.9 million makes it the seventh-best Saturday of all time, behind Iron Man 2 ($45 million) and behind Shrek the Third and The Dark Knight ($47 million each), The Hunger Games ($50 million), Spider-Man 3 ($51 million), and The Avengers ($69 million). The Sunday number ($40 million) puts The Dark Knight Rises at number three among Sundays, behind The Dark Knight ($43 million) and The Avengers ($57 million). Come what may, compared to recent blockbusters, The Dark Knight Rises stands pretty tall, especially without that 3D advantage. For the record, a 3D conversion would have brought the opening weekend to around $185 million, but I digress.
The weekend take of $160 million makes it the top 2D debut of all-time and the third-biggest ever, behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part II ($169 million) and The Avengers ($207 million) and $2 million ahead of the $158 million opening weekend of The Dark Knight. Its weekend total is actually $14 million below the adjusted-for-inflation weekend debut of the second Batman film. Its weekend multiplier is 2.13x, just below the 2.235x weekend multiplier for The Dark Knight. At this point, with all the relevant numbers hammered out, we get into pure speculation and guestimation. Whether or not outside factors are to blame, the fact that its midnight-to-Friday percentage (40%) and its midnight-to-weekend percentage (18.5%) both fall on the very high side. In normal circumstances, such numbers would forecast a weekend-to-total multiplier closer to 2x-2.3x (Harry Potter films and Twilight sequels) as opposed to the 3.3x of The Dark Knight. A perfectly plausible 2.5x multiplier gets the third Batman film to $400 million, while a 2x gets it to 'just' $320 million, or just above the first Iron Man ($318 million) and just below Spider-Man 3 ($337 million or a 2.2x off a $151 million debut). We'll know more next weekend, although the first few weekdays will give us some clues as well, as The Dark Knight earned $66 million over its first Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday. Looking at these figures irrespective of outside variables, I'd call $350-375 million final domestic gross for The Dark Knight Rises.
The question is, are we really prepared to call a film, any film, that grosses around $325-$375 million in America a 'disappointment'? I'd say not, especially if, as I've long speculated, that the thrill of seeing a defining Batman/Joker battle was a core part of The Dark Knight's appeal, a trump card only strengthened by the death of Heath Ledger seven months prior to release. This time around, it was a long-shot to convince general audiences that an actor they arguably never heard of/didn't know by name as a villain they didn't know much about was as exciting as arguably the greatest fictional villain of the last 75 years. Since the studio inexplicably all-but hid Anne Hathaway's Catwoman in the marketing materials, said iconic villain was not a major card for the film. The only differentiating factor this time around was the idea that this was a conclusive series finale, but to general audiences that merely meant wondering whether or not Batman died at the end. Once word about the finale leaks out to the general populace, all the film will have to go on is itself which, differing critical opinions aside, lacks the kind of buzz-worthy performances, quotable dialogue, or jaw-dropping set pieces to merit repeat viewing. Moreover, Warner Bros. erred right in the end, hiding the film from press until the last minute, perhaps an unfortunate consequence of Comic Con occurring the weekend before release as opposed to the weekend after release four years ago. Thus the first and last news story heading into the weekend was not the generally superlative reviews but the deluge of online trolling that was directed at the few critics who initially panned it.
Now with the film associated with yet another American-style mass killing, even those who loved the picture will be forced to speak about it in hushed tones so as to not appear 'callous' or 'insensitive'. I've long argued that The Dark Knight Rises was going to act more like a super-charged sequel to Batman Begins than the second-coming of The Dark Knight. We are certainly all-but-certainly in a situation where yet another $250 million-budgeted tentpole needs massive overseas grosses to break even. The film earned $88 million overseas for a $249 million worldwide debut, the 15th best on record. I'm sure that The Dark Knight Rises won't be a financial loser when all is said and done, and since it's the series finale there is little at stake other than pure financial margins. But its performance should be closely monitored in terms of what should be considered the top-tier potential for any and all other comic book adaptations for the near future. We'll know more when we know more, but for now it seems that The Dark Knight may have been lightning in a bottle.