When discussing the box office, we try to emphasize weekly that there are always more significant issues than the amount of money a movie makes. Usually, it's the quality of the films themselves. This weekend, it is the horrifying loss of life in the wake of the Aurora, Colorado shooting. We at The Playlist hope and pray for those directly affected by the tragedy, hoping that our readers are on the same page regarding what we're about to discuss — simple numbers, nothing more.
Warner Bros. is declining to release official estimates for the weekend until Monday, though it appears the planned record-breaking weekend was slowed down somewhat by the terrible news (though it's really almost impossible to quantify). "The Dark Knight Rises" will likely still finish north of its predecessor "The Dark Knight" for its first weekend, with receipts totaling $161 million, possibly more. This is based on a Friday gross in the neighborhood of $77 million, the third largest Friday in box office history. However, it's likely many weekend audiences second-guessed their plans following the Aurora tragedy, leading to deflated numbers after a spectacular Thursday night ($30 million, below only the unprecedented, 3D-enhanced $43 million midnights for the final "Harry Potter") suggested the all-time record held by "The Avengers" would be surpassed.
The question with "The Dark Knight Rises" has always been whether there were audience members who didn't pay to see "The Avengers" and were instead saving their cash for final lap of the trilogy. While there's tremendous overlap in regards to the superhero franchises, the Batman pic tends to skew older. If Warner Bros. was hoping to surpass the Marvel hit, they would need much stronger attendance numbers, especially since "Avengers" benefited from augmented 3D prices.
However, box office would-be history has become a footnote this weekend. With news coverage of the shooting, Warner Bros. pulled TV ads for "The Dark Knight Rises," absorbing at least $3-$5 million in lost ad time. A cancellation of the film's international press tour will also affect the picture's exposure, though you'll probably see the effect during the weekend in person. "The Dark Knight Rises" had set pre-sale records, to the point where among this weekend's no-shows were those who had already given the film their money. Through no fault of its own, "The Dark Knight Rises" may fail to achieve top-dog box office fame, and may settle instead into real-life infamy.
Of course, box office record discussion aside, Christopher Nolan's opus still cost around $250 million, so it needed/expected a big opening, and the second-biggest opening weekend in box office history (or even third, if it cannot surpass the $169 million of the final "Potter") is still a notable success. "The Dark Knight" managed to coast after its massive opening, effectively ruling the rest of the summer, and when scuttlebutt over this film's (clearly nonexistent) role in this disaster settles, it's possible this entry will do the same. A tragedy like this one is more likely to keep moviegoing audiences away from the "Total Recall" remake than "The Dark Knight Rises," if you get what we're saying.
Which means that, if we were in a bubble, it's business as usual as Hollywood. None of those involved in this film had much to gain aside from a slight boost in profile, though Warner Bros. gets to count the profits. But we're not in a bubble. And as much as this terrible situation was the result of one person who failed to distinguish reality from his own perverse fantasies, it can't help but weigh on the conscience of Nolan and those responsible for producing the critically loved film.
Given that Warner Bros. performed their due diligence in hyping the film through pervasive ads, all emphasizing the gravity of the picture's storyline (involving a murderous terrorist in a gas mask — well-armed imbeciles, take note), the Aurora shooting could usher in a new box office environment, where advertising isn't so pervasive, where midnight screenings aren't mandatory for every big release, and, by extension, where opening weekend numbers no longer matter quite so much, in turn giving films a greater shelf life, and allowing more opportunities for them to be discussed, unpacked, observed. But, let's face it, that's very unlikely to transpire. That said, understanding how art reflects and refracts life, and doesn't directly replicate it, will go a long way towards ensuring that this is a better, more articulate and informed society where such ghastly behavior no longer occurs.
With studios originally attempting to avoid "The Dark Knight Rises," there were no other releases scheduled for this weekend, though a gaggle of films hoped to benefit from spillover. Chief amongst them was "Ice Age: Continental Drift," which should bring in half its opening weekend tally, finishing the three days at or around $90 million, with weekday business for the kidflick able to push the sequel into the territory of the first three "Ice Age" entries. Though the film is fast approaching $500 million global, its domestic take could end up being less than a quarter of its total gross.
With further territories to go, "The Amazing Spider-Man" is also likely to post robust worldwide numbers in comparison to its predecessors. Domestically, however, it may need a push to eclipse $300 million, a figure the first three accomplished with ease. Finishing at $250-$275 million should be enough to lift the worldwide tally, which is likely to approach $800 million global, outdoing at least the second film from a worldwide perspective. There's nothing in these numbers suggesting Sony won't hold on to the May 2nd, 2014 release date for the sequel.
Surprisingly, the weekend numbers are very close for "Spider-Man" and a film that likely cost $200 million less, "Ted." Though actually expensive for mainstream comedy standards ($50 million or so before p+a) "Ted" looks like a sure bet to crest $200 million domestic, and this week it should surpass "The Perfect Storm" to be the biggest film in Mark Wahlberg's CV. Rounding out the top five, "Brave" should pass the domestic gross for "Ratatouille" this weekend, officially becoming Pixar's tenth $200 million domestic grosser.
"Magic Mike" danced its way past $100 million this weekend, while "Savages" winds down, the latter finishing with a total of around $50 million domestic. Playing out the string was "Madea's Witness Protection" and the latest "Madagascar," with "Moonrise Kingdom" aiming for a $40-$45 million total, the second highest grossing film of Wes Anderson's directing career.
Update: Full top 10 numbers are in.
1. "The Dark Knight Rises" – $160.89 million
2. "Ice Age: Continental Drift" – $20.4 million ($88.8 million domestically)
3."The Amazing Spider-Man" – $10.8 million ($228.6 million domestically)
4."Ted" – $10.01 million ($180.4 million domestically)
5."Brave" – $6 million ($208.77 million domestically)
6. "Magic Mike" – $4.2 million ($101.9 million domestically)
7."Savages" – $3.4 million ($40 million domestically)
8."Madea's Witness Protection" – $2.25 million ($60.2 million domestically)
9. "Moonrise Kingdom" – $1.83 million ($36 million domestically)
10. "To Rome With Love" – $1.42 million ($11.1 million domestically)