Weekend Final B.O. Estimates: ‘Dark Knight’ Surges Past ‘Spider-Man 3’ with $158M

MONDAY 9:00 a.m. (Pacific): Sunday was even stronger-than-expected for The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) with an astounding $43M or so. That was just a single digit percentage drop from Saturday, and the Batman Begins sequel has not just beaten Spider-Man 3 (Sony) for the weekend record. The caped crusader has crushed Spidey by over five percent with an estimated $158M. (My Friday 9:30 p.m. estimate was for $66M on Friday and $157M for the three-day.)

The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) has a chance at becoming one of the top 10 domestic grossing movies of all time with over $400M in sales. The Christopher Nolan-directed superhero epic will not, in my estimation, challenge Titanic (Paramount), which generated a stunning $600M gross, but that was a decade ago. James Cameron’s epic opened just before Christmas 1997 and spent 15 weeks at No. 1. That is just not possible in 2008, but it is now safe to project that it will chase down Paramount movies Iron Man and Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull to become the No. 1 movie of 2008.

Still, looking at The Dark Knight’s competition over the next couple of months, the movie will dominate multiplexes through the month of August. This weekend, Step Brothers (Sony) seems headed for about $20M and The X Files: I Want To Believe (Fox) will likely struggle to less than that. The Mummy sequel (Universal) should open well the following weekend, but I give The Dark Knight a chance to hold onto No. 1 for the weekend. The only other possible August blockbusters are The Pineapple Express (Sony) bowing August 8, and Tropic Thunder (Dreamworks/Paramount) and Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Warner Bros) both set for August 15.

Opening in the first weekend of May, as Spider-Man 3 (Sony) did, allows a film to grab 10,000+ screens and pull a lot of money off the table quickly. A mid-July opening can create a ceiling on opening weekend, but improves a film’s “playability” because of the relative lack of late summer competition. The Dark Knight has the best of both worlds. Warner Bros got the movie open to an all-time record number, and now benefits from light competition through Labor Day.

This impeccably reviewed movie is a huge boon for Warner Bros. As I have previously reported, competing studios have expressed great admiration for WB’s marketing and distribution departments for the incredible opening, and the success has vaulted Warner Bros to 2nd place in market share for 2008. Rough estimates as of Monday morning show that Paramount is at $1.1 billion followed by Warner Bros at approximately $715M and Fox at #3 with $673M. With the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars in August and the next Harry Potter in November, Warner Bros will likely finish the year with at least the second best market share in the industry.