Batman at the Box Office

Holy time warp, Batman! We are now only four days away from the release of The Dark Knight Rises! And while we all wait with bated breath for the final installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the studios are crossing their fingers on the potential box office gargantuan that we all expect the film to be. The question isn’t whether or not The Dark Knight Rises will rake. The question is where will the film stand on the all-time box office list when all is said and done?

Look at it this way: If The Avengers made enough money to settle in at third all-time in box office revenue, then why would any of us really be that surprised to see The Dark Knight Rises finish as the highest grossing film ever? Now, Nolan insisted on making the film in 2-D (God bless him for that), so the movie won’t have those inflated ticket prices to help boost its numbers, but if the film is as good as many of us expect, then I don’t think it will matter. There is so much anticipation behind this film that the first wave of movie patrons should take it close to breaking the opening weekend box office record (a common trend for a Batman film). And from there, if the word of mouth is strong enough, I believe the box office will grow even stronger. Because hitting those dollar amounts isn’t just about getting people to go out and see the film, it’s about getting them to go see it a second, or even third, time.

As a franchise, the Batman films have gathered in well over $2.6 billion dollars in ticket sales. $2.6 billion! That is flat out astronomical. So let’s break down the box office results from the first six films, shall we (excluding Batman: The Movie from 1966)?

Tim Burton’s Batman opened on June 23, 1989, and grossed $43.6 million in its initial weekend in release, breaking the record set the previous week by Ghostbusters II. Its final box office totals were $411.35 million ($251.2 million of which were domestic). It is the second highest grossing film in the Batman series, and was the first movie to hit the $100 million mark in its first ten days in theatres.

Batman Returns was released on June 19, 1992, and brought in $45.69 million in its first weekend, setting that record once again. However, the much darker sequel failed to come close to reaching the amount that its predecessor took in, finishing with $266.83 million in sales ($162.83 million domestic). You can blame this decrease on why Warner Brothers shifted the series to a much lighter tone, and replaced Burton with Joel Schumacher.

Schumacher’s Batman Forever was designed to take advantage of the franchise’s box office potential, and the film mostly lived up to expectations, making $52.78 million in its opening weekend of June 16, 1995. Continuing the trend, the film broke the opening weekend record for a third straight time. Overall, Batman Forever took in $336.53 million ($184.03 million domestic), and regardless of poor reviews, was considered a success for Warner Brothers.

There was still money to be made before the atrocious Batman and Robin film brought an end to the Burton/Schumacher era. However, audiences were somewhat weary from the disappointment that was Batman Forever, and so on June 20, 1997, Batman and Robin became the first Batman film that failed to break the opening weekend box office record. However, it still opened well enough, bringing in $42.8 million, the third highest opening for that year. After terrible reviews and word of mouth, the film didn’t hold up very well in comparison to the other Batman movies, and when all was said and done the film grossed $238.2 million ($107.3 million domestic), the lowest of any of the six Batman films so far.

Fast forward eight years to a new Batman, with a fresh director who had a darker, less comic book feeling vision, and you get what will most likely be remembered as the start of the greatest comic book film trilogy of all time. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins opened on June 15, 2005 and earned $48.7 million in its first weekend in release, which was considered solid, but not too impressive in this new era of blockbuster films. Perhaps still stung from the hideous Schumacher films the prior decade, Batman Begins had to first renew faith in a fan base that at first seemed hesitant to embrace the young auteur and his extraordinary vision. It didn’t take long. Batman Begins broke Batman Forever’s franchise record for the most money made after five days, taking in $72.9 million in that span. The film continued to soar from there, and the final tally registered at $372.7 million ($205.3 million domestic), the second highest grossing Batman film in the series at that time. Of course, Batman Begins would drop to third in the series after the juggernaut that was The Dark Knight blew all expectations away, and will most likely end up fourth after The Dark Knight Rises is finished.

Nolan’s sequel, The Dark Knight, is considered by most to be the greatest comic book themed film ever made. And with the critics and fan base fully behind Nolan this time, expectations for the film were justifiably to the moon (those incredibly tantalizing trailers showing off Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker didn’t hurt things much, either). The film hit American theatres on July 18, 2008, and made $199.7 million in its opening weekend. The Dark Knight built up steam as it remained in theatres, and following a re-release of the film on January 23, 2009 (in a plea for Oscar voters to think outside the box – they did not), The Dark Knight became the highest grossing Batman film by more than double the intake of the original Burton film, earning $1,001,921,825 ($533.3 million domestic). The billion-dollar phenomenon broke all sorts of box office records (most of which have since been broken), including the highest intake for midnight showings (earning $18.5 million), the highest opening day/single day gross ($67.2 million), highest domestic opening weekend ($158.4 million), highest opening weekend IMAX sales ($6.3 million), highest opening week running Friday-Thursday ($238.6 million), highest grossing film after days one through ten in release, and highest domestic second-weekend. The Dark Knight was also the fastest film to reach $100 million, $150 million, and each additional $50 million mark through $500 million. The Dark Knight was the highest grossing film of 2008, and at the time of its release was the second highest grossing film of all time domestically behind Titanic (now fourth), and the fifth highest world wide (now 12th). Adjusting for inflation, The Dark Knight is the 29th highest grossing film of all time.

So now we wait for The Dark Knight Rises to make history. Which records will it break? I would bet on it owning the midnight showing, opening day, and opening weekend records, to say the least. Where do you think the film will rank all-time when the dust clears? I’ll put my money on third all-time, passing The Avengers but not quite catching Titanic or Avatar. What is your bold box office prediction for the final installment in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and how many times do you plan on seeing it in theatres?