This weekend, the summer movie season got off to a massive start, with the The Avengers taking in an unfathomable box office gross — $207 million by the time Walt Disney Pictures was done crunching the numbers. Today, the Marvel's superhero epic breached the $700 million worldwide mark, making it a clear success in only its first week in American theaters. At first glance, 2012 may already have its clear winner for biggest box office success of the year.
Looking ahead, there are few prospects on the horizon that stand to challenge the dominating Avengers. The movie had five films of lead up strategically placed over the last five years. The ensemble is killer: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson would put eager, celeb-aware fans in the seats. Combine it with new faces to franchise films, like Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner and you have an unstoppable force. Then you have the comic book element — another draw for a whole different crowd. In industry speak, a four-quadrant is a movie that plays to every demographic across the board because of its various elements colliding into one ultimate blockbuster. The phrase was invented for a movie like The Avengers.
This summer, we have star-driven movies — Johnny Depp's Dark Shadows, Will Smith's Men in Black III and the eclectic cast of The Expendables — and we have recognizable event film fare — the fantasy world of Snow White and the Huntsman, the comic reboot Amazing Spider-Man and the sci-fi remake Total Recall — but thus far, no one film has visible, colossal momentum. Not even Channing Tatum's washboard abs in Magic Mike have the draw of an adventure on The Avengers scale.
Except one, perhaps: The Dark Knight Rises. In the wake of Marvel's steamrolling efforts, the release of both Iron Man and The Dark Knight in the summer of 2008 now feels like an after thought. But it happened — and TDK's impressive take half a decade ago empowers its follow-up — Christopher Nolan's third Bat-film to date – with the hutzpah to challenge top dog The Avengers for the summer throne.
Three movies sit at the top of the biggest opening weekends of all time: number one is now The Avengers, number two is Harry Potter and the the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 and number three is The Dark Knight. The margin is wide; a whopping $50 million separates the Marvel tentpole and the Batman sequel. But longevity is key, and if history is to be believed, The Dark Knight Rises may have the upper hand. Week by week, The Dark Knight continued to pile on the cash, sustaining over 50% of its opening weekend business in its second week of release. Thanks to a late July opening and strong word of mouth, it crushed the spotty fare of the August months, and by week seven, the film crossed the $500 million mark.
Avengers had zero competition last weekend, but while the weeks ahead don't show any powerhouse players that could rival the total box office, they'll certainly chip away at its number one slot (never underestimate the draw of Johnny Depp). Dark Knight Rises is, once again, strategically placed towards the latter half of the summer (July 20, 2012 to be exact), bypassing the other tentpoles in order to unleash its late-game marketing play. The Bourne Legacy and Total Recall stand as possible opponents to Bats and the Gotham City crew, but as Dark Knight Rises the grand finale of Nolan's triumphant reenvisioning of the Batman saga, the same folks who turned out for Dark Knight should return once more — and then some.
Why The Dark Knight Rises may not be able to trump Avengers by the end of summer is a big picture change of the Hollywood landscape. Audiences are seeing movies differently than they were five years ago; 60% of The Avengers gross came from 3D theaters, where ticket prices are nearly doubled. The Dark Knight Rises won't be playing in 3D — a personal choice by Nolan — and it could both help and hinder the movie. Without the extra moolah, the total gross will be less. But could the lack of 3D appeal to tech-tired moviegoers. Easily. What both movies have is the IMAX factor. The Avengers wasn't shot in proper IMAX, but the simultaneous release helped the movie earn additional dough (nearly 8% of the gross). Like the big success of last year's Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, which was partially shot in the large-scale format and proudly marketed as such, The Dark Knight Rises features scene that demand to be seen on the big big big screen. That's a selling point that will drive even more people to the IMAX theaters — and could make up for the lack of 3D effects.
Here's the thing. The Avengers is a top notch superhero, a script and performance-first blockbuster that's rare these days. Christopher Nolan has proved he has the same sensibilities when it comes to Batman. So, really, there's already a clear "winner" the summer. We, the people!
Statistics provided by Hollywood.com Box Office Analyst Paul Dergarabedian