U.S. shooting keeps 'Dark Knight' box office at low end of range
* "Dark Knight Rises" appears headed to $173 million weekend
* Hollywood studios decline to post official sales figures
* Some sources say shooting hurt overall moviegoing Friday
By Ronald Grover and Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES, July 21 (Reuters) - Opening day ticket sales for Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" reached the low end of box office projections as some moviegoers appeared to steer clear of theaters on Friday after a fatal gun rampage at one of its early screenings.
The film grossed $74 million on Friday in the United States and Canada and is seen generating $173 million by the end of the weekend, people with knowledge of industry figures said on Saturday.
Official figures were not released by the distributor, Warner Bros., and for the first time box office watchers could remember, Hollywood's other major film studios also decided to forego giving out ticket sales figures on Saturday.
A Warner Brothers spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment on the Friday night numbers.
"Dark Knight Rises" was one of the most-anticipated films of the year before a gunman opened fire on moviegoers at a midnight screening in Aurora, Colorado, early Friday, killing 12 people and wounding 58 more.
Ahead of the debut, box office forecasters predicted opening weekend sales in a range of $170 million to $198 million from Friday through Sunday, just shy of the record $207 million set by superhero movie "The Avengers" in May.
"The cable news networks were wall-to-wall with the shooting, so it had some shock value that will keep people away," former Columbia Pictures marketing chief Peter Sealey said. "But it will be short term. This movie will play for five or six weeks and still do great business."
Paul Dergarabedian, head of Hollywood.com Box Office, said the movie benefited from pre-sold tickets, leading to people being determined to see the film, despite any possible fears.
After the shooting, theaters tightened security, and Warner Bros. scaled back promotional plans, canceling a Paris premiere and appearances by the cast and crew in Mexico and Japan.
Ronn Torossian, chief executive of New York-based 5W Public Relations which is not involved with the movie's release, said it was smart for the studios to stay quiet in the early days after such a horrific event and he expected the marketing for upcoming, violent films like "The Expendables" to tweak their advertising. But by September, if not earlier, that will change.
"This will affect marketing movies in the short term," he said. "(But) the media has a very short memory, and it's something that in the long run will not affect" film promotion.
LONE KILLER, NO COPYCAT
Outside theaters across the country, where police maintained tight security on Saturday, ticket lines were mostly filled and fans seemed little concerned about a copycat shooting.
"I doesn't make me nervous. It's an isolated incident," said Charles Song, 31, at the Arclight cinema in Hollywood. "I don't think it's going to spur any copycats. It's just one crazy lunatic that went off."
But the event does seem to have changed the thinking of some moviegoers, perhaps families, who might have planned to attend, and other films may be feeling the impact.
Animated family film "Ice Age: Continental Drift," which grossed $44.6 million last week and was the top-selling film, had a larger-than-anticipated 51 percent drop for its second week. It sold $6.5 million on Friday and is projected to collect $23 million for the weekend, box office sources said.
"The Amazing Spider-Man," which opened with near record sales on July 3, sold $6.5 million worth of tickets and is estimated to hit $11.5 million this weekend. The film, produced by Sony Pictures Entertainment, has passed $217 million in domestic sales on Thursday, according to Box Office Mojo.
A representative for 20th Century Fox, which released "Ice Age," was not available for comment, and a spokesman for Sony Pictures, which is behind "Spider-Man," declined comment.
"Dark Knight Rises" is the third and final film in a popular Batman series starring Christian Bale as the crime-fighting hero and directed by Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros. spent $250 million to produce it plus tens of millions more on marketing.
On Friday, the studio said showings just after midnight had grossed $30.6 million in the North American (U.S. and Canadian) market. Warner Bros. later said it would not release any updated sales figures until Monday.
"The Dark Knight" took in $158 million domestically over its debut weekend in July 2008, a record at the time. It went on to ring up sales of more than $1 billion around the world.
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