The box office figures means Nolan’s third installment of the Batman franchise is lagging behind its predecessor The Dark Knight – which featured Heath Ledger’s last screen performance after his premature death. The Dark Knight was released during the Beijing Olympics in 2008, taking a 53 per cent drop in its second weekend with a gross of nearly 75.2 million dollars. The film went on to bag a remarkable $1,001,921,825 on a $185 million budget.
In second place this weekend was the animated family franchise film Ice Age: Continental Drift, making $13.3 million for a total of nearly $114.9 million, while The 20th Century Fox’s critically-panned comedy The Watch, starring Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade came in third place with 13 million dollars.
The Olympics is not a friend of cinema. Only four more releases managed to reach the $100 million in the 2008 summer- and then only just. The CGI-laden The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – with a budget of $145 million – and the star-laden frat-pack Tropic Thunder, with Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black and Tom Cruise, barely made the mark.
The only other films to notch-up triple figures was the entirely unexpected success of Abba-tribute Mamma Mia!, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, and the Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell powered Step Brothers.
Some notable filmmakers notched up box office failures in the last Olympic summer, notably Quentin Tarantino’s Hell Ride and Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy 2. While it fared well in the home entertainment window, Will Smith-vehicle Hancock also failed to make early headway at the box office.
The remaining summer schedule in 2012 only contains two real blockbusters; Tony Gilroy’s Bourne Legacy and Disney animation Brave. If this weekend is anything to go by, the film industry is bracing itself for a fallow time at the box office.
It remains to be seen how other external events beyond The Olympics will impact on the success of The Dark Knight Rises. Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros, declined to comment on the weekend performance – again out of respect for the victims of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting that left 12 people dead and another 58 injured at a midnight showing of the film on its opening night.
Since Aurora, Warner Bros. has been careful not to voice concerns about how the tragedy may impact on their tentpole film’s box office performance. To their credit, the studio quickly dealt with their next tentpole film Gangster Squad – which includes a cinema shoot-out scene – and has since announced it plans to reshoot the ending to the film.
Until this weekend, figures were swelled by massive pre-sale interest in the film, coupled with a behemoth marketing campaign, which led to London’s BFI IMAX cinema taking over £1 million in advance bookings for the first time.
The film looks set to coast beyond the $500 million mark, even before a DVD and home release are factored in. But given how much the studios have come to rely on the commercialism of comic-book adaptions, a repeat of the 60 per cent reduction will cause real anxiety that the tragic loss of life in Colorado has stigmatized a film that dwells on themes of violence, terrorism and anarchy.
As Peter Bart writes in a Variety editorial today: “Summer 2012 has demonstrated anew the impact of the industry’s avid commitment to superheroes and also its tacit abandonment of cost constraints and of counterprogramming…The formidable numbers rolled up by “Dark Knight Rises” underscore the upside potential of the superhero genre, yet the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, raises questions that should give filmmakers pause. Looking at the faces of the children emerging from the theater leads one to ask, is this the appropriate audience for these increasingly dark superhero epics?”