Maggie Gyllenhaal as Gotham City Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes and Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne in "The Dark Knight", which set another box office record in estimates released yesterday.  (Photo: Warner Brothers)

For "The Dark Knight" There's Now At Least 314 Million Reasons To Smile (Or Joke)

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

July 28, 2008

According to estimates released yesterday by Exhibitor Relations, "The Dark Knight" retained its number one position at the box office, making over $75 million over the July 25-27 weekend to gross a staggering $314.6 million total in the U.S. and Canada in just ten days for another record.  The film, directed Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman has now become the fastest film ever to reach the $300 million mark.  At this torrid pace "The Dark Knight", released by Warner Brothers on July 18, will easily surpass "Titanic" as the all-time box-office champion in North America, sometime in mid-to-late September. 

"Titanic" made $602 million in the U.S. and Canada following its initial theatrical release by Twentieth Century Fox on December 19, 1997.  During the middle of the following year the Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet vehicle became the world's highest-grossing film ever with a total of $1.2 billion.  With no other significant blockbuster films to be released in North America between now and the Labor Day holiday in early September except for "The Mummy" sequel which opens this Friday, "The Dark Knight" is poised to rule at the top for at least a month into the foreseeable future.  Perhaps only the onset of the Summer Olympics in Beijing and the upcoming Democratic and Republican National Conventions over the next six weeks may slow or dent "The Dark Knight"'s phenomenal progress. 

All told, "The Dark Knight" could end up with a final tally of close to $700 million in North America alone, and could become the first film ever to hit the $2 billion mark.

Heath Ledger, the Australian actor who died as a result of an overdose in January, has received rave reviews in "The Dark Knight" for his extraordinarily chilling performance as The Joker.  In recent days there has been talk among some critics about a possible Oscar nomination next year.  Some in the press and public have speculated that part of the reason for the film's astounding success have been non-Batman fans turning out in record numbers curious to see Mr. Ledger's final completed performance on the big screen.  Aaron Eckhart has also been gaining attention for his role as Harvey Dent, Gotham City's zealous District Attorney, as has Gary Oldman as Lieutenant Jim Gordon.  "The Dark Knight" has also been the beneficiary of a very high percentage of positive reviews by film critics in both print and on numerous movie-related websites, including The Popcorn Reel.  

Christopher Nolan, the British director, has now cemented himself as one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood in just a short time.  After directing the independent hit "Memento", released in the U.S. and Canada in 2001 he helmed a triumvirate of Oscar winners in Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank in the American remake of "Insomnia" in 2003.  Two years later he redefined and reinterpreted the origins of Batman in gritty and powerful fashion with "Batman Begins", the predecessor to his current "Batman" smash.  Last year Mr. Nolan directed "The Prestige", a thriller which also starred Christian Bale and Michael Caine.  Mr. Nolan has also been said to have designs on making a feature film based on the popular 1970's BBC television series "The Prisoner", which starred Patrick McGoohan. 

With the amazing monetary rewards for "The Dark Knight" in just ten days, there is no doubt that a third film in Nolan's series of "Batman" movies will be made.  Mr. Nolan has also gone further in his interpretation of the famed DC Comics character than either of the directors of the four previous "Batman" feature films (Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher), making the areas of Batman's existence much more gray and uncertain.  In "The Dark Knight" he is anything but the saving grace, and his ambiguity and mystery makes for a most intriguing figure.

Already "The Dark Knight" is within striking distance of becoming the summer's highest grossing film in the U.S. and Canada.  With May holdovers "Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull" making $318 million to lead the summer and "Iron Man" a close second with $315 million, "The Dark Knight" is in third place and could vault into second upon the release of final numbers later today.  No matter what, "The Dark Knight" will surpass both films within the next day or two. 

Made for about $160 million, "The Dark Knight" was shot in Chicago, with a few scenes in Hong Kong and in the outskirts of London in Buckinghamshire at Pinewood Studios.  During filming last year a stuntman was killed.  Both the stuntman and Mr. Ledger are acknowledged in the closing credits of "The Dark Knight".  Warner Brothers was reportedly facing a daunting task in marketing the film in the wake of Mr. Ledger's untimely death.  In the weeks prior to the film's release, Mr. Ledger's image as The Joker menaced many promotional movie posters on buses, billboards and sidewalls, serving as a focal point far more so than the film's principal star, Mr. Bale.  When the Oscar promotion season begins in November, the studio may have a similar challenge in persuading the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to strongly consider the late Mr. Ledger for supporting actor honors.  Generally, the Academy has shunned posthumous nominees and winners, although the last such winner of an Oscar came in 1978 when Peter Finch won for his supporting role in "Network".

In other box office news, "Stepbrothers", the new Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly comedy, was runner-up to "The Dark Knight", with an estimated $30 million in its debut weekend.  Opening to almost universally negative reviews in North America, "Stepbrothers" is about a couple of near-40-year-old men forced to live under the same roof when their widowed parents get married.  The film also stars Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott and Kathryn Hahn and is directed by Adam McKay, who also directed Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Reilly in "Talladega Nights" in 2006, and Mr. Ferrell in "Anchorman" in 2004.  "Stepbrothers" is the first Will Ferrell comedy not to debut at number one at the U.S. and Canada box office since "Old School".

Rounding out the top five box office films were, in third place, "Mamma Mia", "The X-Files: I Want To Believe" (for a disappointing fourth-placed finish and $10.2 million) and "Journey To The Center Of The Earth", with about $9.4 million.

Final numbers will be released later today.

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