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'Dark Knight' to Play on Record Number of Screens

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Jul 16, 2008 | 11:54am EDT

Warner Bros. has done something incredible. Despite the fact that we are in mid-July, my sources are telling me that The Dark Knight will open on over 9,200 screens, an all-time record for the studio. This is no small feat given that mega-hits Hancock (Sony) and Pixar’s WALL-E (Disney) are doing huge business and both Mamma Mia (Universal) and Space Chimps (Fox) open wide this weekend.

The Dark Knight (Warner Bros.) arrives in theatres Thursday at midnight, and one of the major concerns has been the availability of screens at this point in the summer. I am making a distinction here between the number of locations and the number of screens. Sources at competing studios tell me that the long-awaited Batman sequel from Christopher Nolan has a real shot at breaking the all-time record for most playdates, surpassing the 4,362 locations that opened last May’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (Disney).

The number of actual prints or screens (some locations have digital projection) has been considered critical to The Dark Knight’s success, which has an outside chance of toppling Sony's Spider-Man 3 as Hollywood’s all-time opening weekend champ. Spider-Man 3, which grossed $59M on its opening Friday and reached $151.11M in its first 3 days, debuted at 4,252 locations, fewer than the new Batman, but it played on a reported 10,000 screens. That means SM3 played on about 2.35 screens per location. That was, however, the first weekend of May when multiplexes have plenty of screens available. Screen counts are treated as “state secrets,” but it is likely that Warner Bros will have The Dark Knight on more screens than any July release in history.

Some prognosticators are calling for $151M+ and a new opening record, but I am not in that camp. Although industry tracking is in the stratosphere and certainly would support an opening of that size, Spider-Man 3 had more screens because of its early May window. Also, The Dark Knight’s 142-minute running time is working against it. That will mean 5 showings per day per screen compared to 6 for movies like WALL-E and Hellboy II (Universal) and 7 for the 92-minute Hancock.

My prediction is that by Monday morning, the impeccably reviewed Batman Begins sequel will have the all-time #2 opening weekend, surpassing the $135.63M posted by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (Disney) in 2006. The truth is that anything above $110M would be a staggering success, and regardless of the opening weekend number, I believe that The Dark Knight will have great playability, leading to $300M domestic. This film has a real shot at topping Paramount releases Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to become the #1 grossing movie of 2008.

Mamma Mia (Universal) will likely be the #2 movie this weekend. Industry tracking is very solid, reviews are excellent and both Meryl Streep and ABBA have real drawing power. I am calling for $27M-$32M, which would be an excellent start. Females 25 Plus are especially excited about this title, and that demo does not always turn out on opening weekend, meaning Mamma Mia is going to have excellent legs. I believe this is the Hairspray of 2008--a female-skewing mid-summer musical that will reach $100M+ domestic.

It is a challenging summer for Fox. M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening will fall short of $70M domestic, Eddie Murphy’s Meet Dave opened to a disastrous $5.25M last weekend, and now the animated Space Chimps is struggling to get any traction with moviegoers. In fact, its First Choice score in industry tracking is just 2%. Granted there are some un-surveyed kids that may show up, but this one will likely finish the weekend in the $4M-$7M range.

FINAL PREDICTIONS FOR THE WEEKEND OF JULY 18

1. The Dark Knight (Warner Bros) - $136M

2. Mamma Mia (Universal) - $30M

3. Hellboy II (Universal) - $18.7M

4. Hancock (Sony) - $17.25M

5. WALL-E (Disney) - $10.9M

6. Journey to the Center of the Earth (Warner Bros) - $10.5M

7. Space Chimps (Fox) - $7M

8. Wanted (Universal) - $6M

9. Get Smart (Warner Bros) - $4.3M

10. Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks/Paramount) - $2.65M

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