Friday, July 25, 2008

Batmania 1989 vs. Batmania 2008

Nineteen years ago the first Batman film made $100 million in ten days, setting a record. It also had the biggest opening weekend of all time: $42 million. But that was 1989. Now The Dark Knight, the sixth Batman film but only the second in director Christopher Nolan's "reboot" of the franchise, stands to make $300 million in ten days, after a record-breaking opening weekend of $158 million.

Nolan's first Batman film, 2005's Batman Begins, made $205 million in its theatrical run. The general rule used to be that a sequel was expected to earn 60 percent of its predecessor's box office take, with diminishing returns each time out. But that rule changed earlier this decade, as far as I can tell, when sequels like Rush Hour 2 (2001), The Mummy Returns (2001), X2 (2003), and Shrek 2 (2004) all topped the first installments in their franchises. Shrek 2 is the most striking example: 2001's Shrek made $267 million, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but Shrek 2 made $441 million three years later.

Below is the New York Times article from July 4, 1989, that talks about Batman's record-breaking gross 19 years ago. Remember when $100 million was the magic number for a movie to gross in theaters? Now franchise films routinely cost that much or more (The Dark Knight has a production price tag of $185 million), and grossing $100 million in just three days seems almost commonplace.

'Batman' Sets Sales Record: $100 Million in 10 Days
By Aljean Harmetz

Inexorably swooping down on movie audiences for the second weekend in a row, ''Batman'' continues to dominate the box office. The movie broke another record on Sunday. In just 10 days, the movie, from Warner Brothers, has sold $100.2 million worth of tickets, breaking the record of ''Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,'' which reached $100 million on its 19th day.

At Warner Brothers, normally the most phlegmatic of studios, executives boiled over with emotion—grinning, joking, and describing the weekend as ''Batweek No. 2.''

Barry Reardon, the president of distribution at the studio, is predicting that ''Batman'' will sell a minimum of $250 million worth of tickets. The studio says its research shows that 13- to 18-year-olds are already going back to see the movie three and four times. It is this repeat business that propels a movie into the Top 10. Although it is far too early to tell whether ''Batman'' will challenge ''E. T.'' and ''Star Wars,'' the two most successful movies ever made, Mr. Reardon said he thought it would pass ''Return of the Jedi'' for third place.

Predictions of Success

Mr. Reardon said that by Friday ''Batman'' will have earned $90 million in film rentals, that portion of the ticket sales that is returned to a movie's distributor. The most successful movies ever produced by Warner Brothers were ''The Exorcist,'' which had film rentals of $89 million and ''Superman'' with film rentals of $82.8 million.

The top movies at the box office last weekend were ''Batman'' with ticket sales of $30 million, Disney's ''Honey, I Shrunk the Kids'' ($13.1 million), Columbia's ''Karate Kid III'' ($10.4 million), Columbia's ''Ghostbusters II'' ($9 million), Paramount's ''Indiana Jones'' ($7 million) and Disney's ''Dead Poets Society'' ($6.7 million).

Of the three movies that opened last weekend, Orion's ''Great Balls of Fire'' is considered dead, having grossed a paltry $3.9 million in 1,417 theaters.

'Do the Right Thing' Does Well

By contrast, Universal's ''Do the Right Thing,'' Spike Lee's disturbing comedy about good intentions and racial violence, sold $3.5 million worth of tickets in just 353 theaters. Universal's research shows that ''Do the Right Thing,'' which has gotten glowing reviews, is playing equally well in black and white neighborhoods. The big question is whether the movie will continue to do well when it broadens to 1,000 theaters.

Although ''Karate Kid'' made more than $10 million at 1,560 theaters, its future does not look bright. The movie took in less money on Saturday than it did on Friday, something which happens only when a movie has bad word of mouth.

The major disappointments of the summer so far are Clint Eastwood's ''Pink Cadillac,'' which has grossed less than $12 million for Warner Brothers, and Paramount's ''Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,'' which continues to sink. ''Star Trek III,'' the weakest of the first four films in the series, brought Paramount $39 million in film rentals, or close to $80 million at the box office. (A studio usually ends up with 50 percent of the box-office receipts.) ''Star Trek V'' has reached $42.4 million in ticket sales.

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