'Knight' hits new heights

WB's blockbuster tops $300 mil in 10 days and leads b.o. again

Warner Bros.' record-chomper "The Dark Knight" ruled the boxoffice roost again during the weekend, with its estimated $75.6 million in second-session grosses pushing its domestic cume above $300 million in a quickest-ever sprint of just 10 days.

Registering $314.2 million through Sunday, the Batman sequel outpaced the record held by Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which hit $300 million 16 days after its July 2006 release and went on to ring up $423.3 million domestically.

"Dark Knight" dropped 52% over its second weekend, marking a more modest decline than those absorbed by many big action titles.

Sony's R-rated comedy "Step Brothers" opened at No. 2 with a solid $30 million, while Fox's sci-fi sequel "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" bowed limply in fourth place with $10.2 million. Universal's musical "Mamma Mia!" finished third, dropping a skimpy 36% in its sophomore session to $17.9 million and a 10-day cume of $62.7 million.

On an industrywide basis, the weekend's $178 million represented a 4% decline from the same frame a year earlier, according to data service Nielsen EDI.

The seasonal boxoffice is up 1% from a year earlier, at $2.94 billion. Annual boxoffice is flat — at $5.61 billion — compared with a similar portion of 2007.

In a limited bow during the weekend, Miramax unspooled the Emma Thompson starrer "Brideshead Revisited" with 33 playdates and grossed $332,000, or an impressive per-theater average of $10,060, to amply demonstrate older moviegoers' appetite for well-executed summer counter-programming. The big-screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's novel — which previously spawned a TV miniseries — "Brideshead" is set to expand to about 160 locations on Friday.

Paramount Vantage's high school documentary "American Teen" debuted with five runs in New York and Los Angeles to gross $42,827, or an auspicious $8,565 per site. "Teen" expands to 10 additional markets on Friday.

The Weinstein Co. debuted the British drama "Boy A" with solo engagements in New York and Los Angeles, grossing $11,405, or a sturdy $5,703 per playdate. "Boy A," the adaptation of a novel by Jonathan Trigell, totes a cume of $13,127 following a Wednesday bow in the New York venue.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Music Box's French-language thriller "Tell No One" added 22 theaters for a total of 77 and grossed $1.7 million, or a solid $5,580 per venue, with a $1.7 million cume.

Sony Pictures Classics' Ben Kingsley starrer "The Wackness" added 86 theaters for a total of 120 and grossed $240,728, or a tame $2,006 per venue, with a $1.1 million cume.

SPC's comedy-drama "Baghead" added five playdates for a total of seven and grossed $17,208, or $2,458 per engagement, with a cume of $49,240.

Warner Bros. distribution president Dan Fellman noted the solid market hold for "Dark Knight" came despite its boasting far fewer midnight or early morning showtimes than it did over its first weekend.

With that kind of market traction, projections put the Christian Bale starrer crossing $400 million domestically within its first 18-19 days. That would outpace $400 million-plus grosser "Shrek 2," which passed that mark in a still-record 43 days in 2004.

"That kind of tells the story," Fellman said.

The latest "Dark Knight" grosses included $4.6 million in boxoffice from Imax giant-screen venues, where the weekend-to-weekend drop was just 28%.

Warners' stunning success with "Dark Knight" has propelled the studio past $1 billion in total domestic grosses in record time, shaving almost 1 1/2 months off Warners' record spurt last year, when it reached $1 billion on Sept. 12. Studio execs now expect to pass Paramount in domestic market share by week's end and are bullish about prospects of finishing the year atop distributor rankings.

Produced for an estimated $180 million, "Dark Knight" was co-financed by Legendary Pictures.

"Step Brothers" played young, with 66% of its patrons under 25. Audiences skewed 54% male for the film, which notched a July record for a comedy opening.

"It's a terrific start for us," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said of the bow, which was on the high end of prerelease projections.

Production costs totaled roughly $65 million on "Step Brothers."

"I Want to Believe" unspooled six years after Fox's "The X-Files" went off the air and 10 years after the $30.1 million bow of the first movie adaptation, "The X-Files." The sequel drew audiences comprised heavily of older moviegoers, with 70% of patrons 25 and older. Support was split 50-50 between males and females, with overall support falling short of forecasts pegging "I Want to Believe" for a bow in the teen millions.

"The movie was made for a great price," Fox senior vp Chris Aronson said.

Produced for an estimated $30 million, "I Want to Believe" is still expected to turn a profit, Aronson added.

Looking ahead, two wide openers set for Friday will likely appeal to differing core audiences. Universal opens the action-adventure sequel "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," starring Brendan Fraser and likely to skew to younger demos, while Disney will bow the political comedy "Swing Vote," starring the older-appealing Kevin Costner. (partialdiff)