Warner Bros. wins at the wire

'Dark Knight' joins forces with New Line pics to secure summer victory

Legging its way to the head of the distribution pack just this month, Warner Bros. will win the summer boxoffice derby.

Warners' summer slate was full, but its seasonal victory is clearly the result of the record run by its phenomenally popular "The Dark Knight."

Once the Batman sequel had opened so famously on July 18 -- accumulating record after record as its spurted past successive boxoffice benchmarks -- industryites assumed that Warners' tortoise of a release slate would eventually pull ahead of Paramount's summer hare. And so it did.

The summer boxoffice season officially closes with Labor Day, but distributor market-share rankings are already clear. Champagne corks are popping in Burbank.

"It's been the biggest summer in our company's history," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said with a wide smile.

Through last weekend, Warners registered $958 million with its summer slate for a 24.2% market share. Helping considerably was the studio's move just before the summer to assume distribution control over films produced by its New Line sister unit, including "Sex and the City" ($153 million) and "Journey to the Center of the Earth" ($92 million).

"The New Line pictures were great and turned into very successful vehicles for us," Fellman said. "When those movies were turned over to us, there were very, very few marketing materials. (Warners marketing boss) Sue Kroll stepped up to the place and knocked it out of the park with a great group from the Warner-New Line team."

But Paramount sure had its 21⁄2 months of summer fun, too.

During the boxoffice season's first frame, its own superhero action film "Iron Man" dashed off to a $102 million start en route to a $317 million theatrical run surpassed only by the $489 million embarrassment of riches rung up by "Dark Knight." The Christian Bale starrer is likely to hit $500 million in domestic grosses by Labor Day, though Paramount's Robert Downey Jr. starrer will continue to pad its haul as well.

Par will finish second for the summer with $947 million in summer boxoffice through last weekend and a 23.9% share of the market.

Also contributing to that silver-medal finish was Steven Spielberg's latest relics-hunting adventure "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which has fetched $315 million domestically.

Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore credited "incredible films" and creative marketing and distribution for the performance.

"The hard work undeniably paid off," he said.

Universal will finish a distant third among the seasonal rankings, sitting with $691 million and a 17.4% share. But nobody was complaining at Uni over a seasonal bounty considered bountiful indeed.

"We had a lot of moderately budgeted product, and there wasn't what you would call an easy layup in the bunch," worldwide marketing and distribution president Adam Fogelson said of the studio's summer film slate. "But the way things have turned out, we're thrilled."

"The Incredible Hulk" -- a Marvel production that Universal distributed -- was the studio's top domestic performer at $134 million.

As for the industry's year-to-date marketshare rankings, summer sure mixed things up.

Fox was sitting atop the distributor rankings entering May. But it comes out of swimsuit season sitting at No. 5 on the year after a quiet summer in which the studio ranks at the bottom of all majors headed into the final frame of the boxoffice season.

Warners had been No. 2 on the year heading into summer. It now has emerged at the top of both 2008's year-to-date market-share rankings -- a 20.3% share on roughly $1.36 billion, projected through Monday -- and the summer's pecking order.

A $500 million domestic run will do lots of nice things for your market profile.

"We always had great hopes for 'Dark Knight' but not anywhere near the performance it achieved," Fellman acknowledged.

In addition to its Batman phenom and New Line films, Warners' summer was boosted by "Get Smart" ($128 million) and "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" ($38 million).

Sony will finish fourth on the summer -- with $568 million through summer's penultimate session and a 14.3% share -- but execs emphasized the profitability of its offerings. The studio's top film in the summer was a big one -- Will Smith's $226 million-grossing superhero pic "Hancock."

"Everyone dreams of having a movie that performs to the level of 'Hancock,'" Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. "But I think it's an incredible feat when every picture that you release in a summer is profitable."

Disney and Fox finished fifth and sixth, respectively, but not on the basis of failed films so much as their mostly low-keyed offerings. Disney has rung up $377 million for a 9.5% share, with the $216 million performance by animated hit "WALL-E" rising well above the rest of its summer releases; Fox has registered $246 million for a 6.2% share absent any top 10 film.

Elsewhere, the art house and specialty market was relatively quiet for the summer months as usual. But a fledgling indie managed to break the seasonal top 10 in distributor marketshare, with Overture registering $9.8 million -- including a $9.3 million haul for its well-reviewed drama "The Visitor" -- and a 0.25% share in 10th place.

"We feel we established ourselves with 'The Visitor,' " Overture chief Chris McGurk said. "Three or four releases between now and the end of the year should be even bigger."