Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2012: #3
The Dark Knight Ruined
By David Mumpower
January 8, 2013

I'll miss you, buddy.

The Dark Knight was one of those perfect projects, a rare instance where cinematic quality and box office popularity aligned. While the tragic death of Heath Ledger may have soured the production for some, the triumph of The Dark Knight is impossible to ignore. It was the unanimous choice for top Film Industry Story of 2008. Ever since then, consumers had breathlessly anticipated the release of the sequel, the title that would signify the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Alas, grievous events caused by a madman once again marred the enjoyment of a Batman movie.

Ordinarily, BOP prides itself on ignoring sensationalism, the media minutiae that lead to frequent slam pieces. We are not in the habit of tearing down projects without justification. As such, our staff sorely regrets having to include a discussion of the events of Aurora, Colorado on our annual list. If we did not, however, we would be sticking our collective head in the sand about the most memorable moment that occurred in a cinema this year.

By now, we all know the details. The Century 16, a Cinemark cineplex located at the Town Center in Aurora, Colorado was one of several thousand exhibitors providing midnight exhibitions of The Dark Knight Rises. They were the unlucky ones.

A sick bastard – one whose name we have never printed on this Web site nor will we ever do so – bought a ticket to the movie. He took his seat in the front row and watched the first 20 minutes. Then, he headed out the door, taking a moment to prop open the emergency exit. He went out to his car, armed himself in protective gear and then took a stockpile of guns back into the theater a few minutes later.

What happened next is impossible for the rational mind to reconcile.

From the perspective of the movie goers, a maniac in a gas mask entered through the emergency exit. Well, that was the revisionist point of view. At the time, some people in the audience believed that this individual had left long enough to get dressed in a Batman cosplay outfit. He would not have been the only person in the theater who had gotten dressed up for the occasion. Alas, his security gear served a much more insidious purpose.

Armed in bulletproof clothing, the madman disrupted the Batman exhibition by releasing a can of tear gas in the crowd. As the innocent movie-goers struggled to intuit what was about to transpire, he opened fire. A spray of bullets was unleashed into the crowd. Defenseless people who wanted only to watch a good movie were shot to death.

Seventy people were wounded by gunfire that night. A dozen of them died, not counting the victim who miscarried the following week. Out of the 12 fatalities, 10 of them were under the age of 30. One was six-years-old. A three-month-old was also injured although not severely (thank God).

In the days that followed, the shooter was later revealed to have dyed his hair orange. His intention was to become the real life version of the Joker. At least, that was what was speculated during a police interview that was later downplayed. This psycho’s celebration of malice disrupted 70 lives and in the process ruined the movie-going experience of The Dark Knight Rises for many. The former is exponentially more important than the latter.

What follows next is a conversation about The Dark Knight Rises and how much it was impacted by the tragedy. I want to stress that I recognize how insignificant these concerns are in comparison to the events above. Such is the discomfort created by the tragic events of Aurora that a bridge from mass murder to how it impacts a Batman movie is automatically trite. Please keep this in mind as we discuss the trivialities of the matter.

The highly anticipated release of The Dark Knight Rises, the moment movie fans awaited for four years, became a footnote relative to the crime described above. Any existing expectations for the third Nolan-directed Batman movie to become the largest opener of all time vanished immediately. Rather than obsessing over box office receipts, people instead found themselves glued to the television, trying to make sense of what had transpired.

Was there a significant impact on The Dark Knight Rises’ box office? We will never know for sure either way. Readers passionately debated the subject all summer. I am of the opinion that being inexorably linked with the shooting definitely hurt the movie. Exactly how much is the unknown aspect.

Here is what we can quantify. The Dark Knight Rises did not feature 3D, a decision that favored art instead of commerce. Nolan should be applauded for this sort of respect shown toward his craft. Since The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises both featured IMAX exhibitions, there was no notable disparity in the earning potential of the two titles. The third movie was the beneficiary of an 11% increase in average ticket price over its predecessor. Other than that, the films were capital-neutral.

Disappointingly, The Dark Knight Rises debuted with an opening weekend of $160.9 million, only 1.5% better than The Dark Knight. By day four, the sequel had already fallen behind the pace of Nolan’s second Batman movie. Some analysts blamed the difference in early performance on the longer run time of the third film. Through clenched teeth, I have informed several of them that The Dark Knight Rises is only 12 minutes longer than The Dark Knight. Both titles have run times that prevent an additional showing a day. Since they are exhibited in multiple theaters per location, it’s a non-issue anyway. As many people went to see The Dark Knight Rises as felt comfortable doing so after the catastrophic events in Aurora, Colorado.

In the end, the third Batman movie starring Christian Bale grossed $448 million domestically. This is the seventh best box office performance of all time yet it is $85 million short of The Dark Knight. Globally, the news is brighter. The international marketplace has expanded exponentially in only a few years. Thanks to the overseas growth, The Dark Knight Rises has bested its predecessor in terms of global revenue. If not for this one artificially inflated box office tally, the final Nolan film would be inferior to its predecessor in every regard.

Simply stated, The Dark Knight Rises was less popular than The Dark Knight. Reviews were not as glowing, praise was less emphatic and box office revenue was less lucrative. The tragedy of Heath Ledger’s death infused the 2008 release with incendiary buzz, leading to its scorching box office pace as well as eight Academy Awards nominations including two victories. The events of Aurora, Colorado left a bitter taste in the mouths of most consumers that unfortunately stained the perception of The Dark Knight Rises through no fault of anyone involved with the production.

How well The Dark Knight Rises would have done without the Aurora tragedy is something we will never know for sure. What I can say with confidence is that The Dark Knight Rises still managed to become one of the most popular movies of all-time in terms of box office. Given what transpired, I consider this a victory not just for the movie but for the movie-goers who overcame the fear caused by a mad man in Aurora. Their courage allowed The Dark Knight Rises to achieve what any other film franchise would consider epic results.