Box Office Analysis, July 20: ‘Dark Knight’ Leads the All-Time Best Weekend in Hollywood

The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) is the all-time three-day box office champion, and it has led the way to the all-time best weekend for the business as a whole. The Christopher Nolan-directed sequel, featuring a twisted, brilliant performance by the late Heath Ledger, delivered an excellent $47.38M on Saturday, and competing studio projects the film at $39.61M on Sunday for $155M domestic.

The records set by The Dark Knight include Best Midnight Opening ($18.4M), Best Opening Day ($66.4M) and Second-Best Saturday ($47.38M) along with the All-Time Best Opening Weekend, surpassing Spider-Man 3. When I wrote Friday night that the film would hit $66M for Friday and $157M for the weekend, I was basically spot-on. This morning a competing studio exec expressed great admiration for Warner Bros. “The marketing campaign was genius and securing over 9,000 screens is amazing. They got every last dollar out of this movie.”

Universal’s Mamma Mia! performed right at expectations with an estimated $27M for the three-day. This bodes very well for the film’s domestic run as its strongest demo is Females 25+, and they are never known for being early attenders. I believe this movie has over $100M in it. 

Hancock was a solid No. 3 with $13.8M, and, with a domestic cume of over $191M, it should pass the $200M threshold this week. Warner Bros Journey to the Center of the Earth rode its 800 or so 3D engagements to a solid hold with $11.9M for a new total of $43M. WALL-E (Disney) rounds out the top five with $9.85M.

The other new wide release, the animated Space Chimps (Fox), managed just $7.3M. It’s been a rough stretch for Fox with The HappeningMeet Dave and now Space Chimps back-to-back-to-back.

As I first reported Friday night, Hollywood has easily bested its all-time best three-day weekend with over $250M in domestic box office for the top 12 films. That number has crushed the previous three-day best of $209.88 (again the top 12 films) set July 7-9 of 2006. That was opening weekend for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 ($135M), the second weekend of Superman Returns ($21.8M) and the second three-day for The Devil Wears Prada ($15M).

In fact, if the projected number of $250M holds, this weekend will be bigger than the top 12 for any four-day Memorial Day weekend in history. That is great news for the industry, which seems to be benefiting from a down economy and the number of families who are choosing not to travel. I am already tired of hearing the term “staycation,” but the outrageous price of gas does seem to be keeping people at home and spending their entertainment dollars at the local multiplex.

One other note about some of my writing from over the weekend. Some bloggers have been critical of my suggestion that The Dark Knight should be a Best Picture nominee at the next Academy Award ceremony. I am not backing down, despite all of the films with more distinct Oscar pedigree on the release schedule for the second half of the year.

Everyone seems to lament the ever-eroding ratings for Hollywood’s biggest night. They blame the host and the length of acceptance speeches, but the real reason, in my opinion, is the obscurity of some of the selections. One role of the Oscars is certainly to champion smaller films, but the awards should also recognize the year’s best popular entertainment. The Dark Knight and WALL-E are both Oscar caliber movies in my mind. Last year, there should have been a Best Picture slot for The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal). If the industry wants a return to its rating glory, voters should not narrow their list of nominees exclusively to small, well-reviewed art films.


1. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) – $155M, $35,502 PTA, $153M cume

2. Mamma Mia!  (Universal) – $27M, $9,073 PTA, $27M cume

3. Hancock (Sony) – $13.8M, $3,655 PTA, $191.3M cume

4. Journey to the Center of the Earth (Warner Bros) – $11.9M, $4,205 PTA, $43.06M cume

5. WALL-E (Disney) – $9.85M, $2,976 PTA, $182.51M cume

6. Hellboy II (Universal) – $9.67M, $3,012 PTA, $56.08M cume

7. Space Chimps (Fox) – $7.3M, $2,907 PTA, $7.3M cume

8. Wanted (Universal) – $4.9M, $2,014 PTA, $123.14M cume

9. Get Smart (Warner Bros) – $3.9M, $1,827 PTA, $119.38M cume

10. Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks/Paramount) – $1.75M, $1,163 PTA, $206.5M cume