Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008:
#1: The Dark Knight. Duh.
By David Mumpower
January 15, 2009
Undeniably, Heath Ledger was the engine that made The Dark Knight go, but Christopher Nolan was still the mechanic. He had fit together the perfect pieces with his first Batman movie, managing to trick audiences into believing the villain was an entirely different person until the very end. And he was equally successful in whetting the audience's appetite for a sequel. Starting about six months prior to the release of The Dark Knight, some of the finest theaters in North America - those equipped to handle IMAX and Real-D technology - began airing a short heist film starring Ledger as The Joker. This promotion succeeded in building buzz for the sequel's release, but it also proved to be the first several minutes of the movie itself, a remarkable juxtaposition of marketing and filmmaking. The sheer genius of this sequence cannot be understated and even had Ledger not passed away, this six-minute clip would have gone a long way in securing the box office dominance of The Dark Knight.
And boy, was it ever dominant. The $185 million production budget was quite a gamble given the fact that Batman Begins had earned "only" $205.3 million domestically. Warner Bros. needed a much bigger performance from the sequel to justify the added expense from the not-cheap $150 million spent on the first Batman film made by Nolan. The studio already knew the gamble had paid off a full six weeks out when tracking for The Dark Knight indicated it had a chance to beat the more storied Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as well as the surprising Iron Man to be the biggest film of the summer of 2008. Since both of those releases were going to earn $300 million domestically, the tracking for The Dark Knight was, as studio marketers occasionally hype, through the roof. And this was not a situation where the marketing was too optimistic, a sad trend during the summer of 2008, either. Before the movie started showing, it was already breaking records.
The Dark Knight was exhibited in 4,366 locations, breaking the previous record set of 4,362 set by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End 14 months prior. Thanks to an unprecedented volume of midnight showings on Thursday evening/Friday morning, The Dark Knight had already earned $18.5 million before breakfast had begun in North America. This beat a seemingly unbreakable record set by Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith in 2005...by almost 10%. By the time its first 24 hours were in the books, The Dark Knight had accrued an unbelievable $67,165,092, breaking Spider-Man 3's single day record of $59,841,919 by 12.2%. Batman's latest adventure wasn't just beating box office records; it was shattering them. In fact, the $67,165,092 it managed in single day would have been the fifth biggest opening of 2008 on its own. Consider that Quantum of Solace and Twilight, two other entries on our Top Industry Stories of 2008 list, managed $67,528,882 and $69,637,740, respectively. Those are two of the most successful projects of the year yet they needed an entire weekend to do what Batman could do in a day. By the time The Dark Knight had spent a single day in theaters, everyone in the industry already knew we were looking at a truly historic performance.