Dark Knight, The: Best Weekend Opener Ever

July 21, 2008–Warner’s The Dark Knight qualifies as the highest weekend opening ever, grossing $158.3 million, even more than Sundays estimate of $155.3 million.

This perfromance beats the $151.1 million opening of Spider-Man 3 in May 2007. Dark Knight enjoyed a better-than-expected Sunday. Final figure of $158.3 million was released Monday morning.

Warner estimates that Dark Knight, returning Christian Bale as DC Comics famed superhero Batman and playing in a record 4,366 theaters, could gross $220 million in its first week. Thats more than the entire domestic gross of Nolans Batman Begins, which cumed $205 million domestically and $166 million overseas.

Dark Knights added popularity is due in part to the death of Heath Ledger, who stars as the creepiest Joker yet.

Mamma Mia! also made the records books in narrowly beating Hairspray to become the top opener for a musical. Opening the same weekend last year, Hairspray grossed $27.5 million in its debut. Starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia! proved the ideal counterprogramming to the dark and brooding Batman sequel.

Overseas, where it opened ahead of its domestic launch, Mamma Mia! is already a success, grossing $26.8 million in its second frame for a boffo cume of $72.6 million. Meanwhile, Warners is rolling out Dark Knight slowly abroad. Over the weekend, it grossed an impressive $40 million from only a handful of territories.

Dark Knights transformation into the event film of the summer confirms that Warners, DC Comics and Nolan have successfully relaunched a franchise that has seen several stops and starts. Before Batman Begins, studio made four other Batman pics to varying results, beginning with Batman in 1989.

Lightning doesnt strike often, but it did this time, said Warners prexy of distribution Dan Fellman. Chris Nolan took a franchise that was really finished, and he created an incredible film with Batman Begins. He put together an outstanding cast in Dark Knight, and Heath Ledgers performance is mesmerizing.

Film also stars Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine; Freeman and Caine also appeared in Batman Begins. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer penned the screenplay, while Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Nolan produced.

Dark Knight earned a record-breaking $67.8 million on Friday alone. Of that, $18.5 million came from midnight shows, besting the previous midnight record set by Foxs 2005 Star Wars: Episode III — The Revenge of the Sith, which grossed $16.9 million from 3,663 venues.

Estimates compiled by several competing studios showed Dark Knight coming in below $155 million for the weekend and much closer to the $151.1 million earned by Spider-Man 3 on its opening weekend.

In terms of the breakdown by day, Warners estimates that Dark Knight earned $48 million on Saturday, a 30% drop from Friday, and will gross $39.4 million on Sunday. Spider-Man 3 had a stronger Saturday, earning $51.3 million. Sundays Dark Knight take was $39.3 million.

Because it is the heart of summer, Fellman said Dark Knight has an advantage over Spider-Man in that more kids will go the movies on Sunday because they dont have to wake up Monday morning and go to school.

The pattern is different for our movie, Fellman said. Dark Knight also has the advantage of stellar reviews. Film played to all audiences but skewed slightly male, at 52%. Audience was evenly split in terms of age.

Dark Knights debut brought large-format exhib Imax its best opening weekend take ever. Of the films total grosses, $6.2 million came from 94 Imax theaters across the country. Nolan filmed several lengthy action segments with large-format cameras for Imax auds.

Mamma Mia!, based on the long-running West End musical, played heavily to women, who made up 75% of the audience. Roughly 64% of the audience was over age 25.

Film was helmed by Brit stage director Phyllida Lloyd and produced by Tom Hanks Playtone and Littlestar. Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard and Colin Firth also star.

Rocco said that musicals usually see a drop from Friday to Saturday, but that Mamma Mia! remained steady. She expects the film to have strong legs, just as Hairspray and summer comedy The Devil Wears Prada did.