By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES, July 20 The release of Warner
Bros.' movie "The Dark Knight Rises" brings to an end one of
Hollywood's most enduring franchises, as the studio searches to
find a new one capable of matching Batman's box office success.
Forecasts for opening weekend ticket sales were thrown into
doubt after a shooting in Colorado on Friday at a midnight
screening of the film. Twelve people were killed.
Warner Bros. said in a statement that the studio was "deeply
saddened" by the incident and extended sympathy to the families
of the victims.
New York City planned to deploy police officers at
screenings of the film, and theaters nationwide began reviewing
and tightening security.
Hollywood box office watchers said the movie industry had
never faced a situation like this. "This is a tragic and
unprecedented event," said Paul Dergarabedian, box office
watcher for Hollywood.com.
The Time Warner-owned studio has been Hollywood's
King of Franchises for years. Over the last decade it generated
worldwide ticket sales of $12 billion from its "Lord of the
Rings," "Batman," and "Harry Potter" films.
Eight of the 20 highest-grossing films of all time come from
one of those franchises, according to website Box Office Mojo.
"The Dark Knight Rises" will be the last of the Batman
series that began in 2005, director Christopher Nolan said.
"Harry Potter," Warner Bros.'s biggest franchise, ended last
summer with the largest of eight films, "Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows - Part 2," which generated $1.3 billion
Franchise films are especially important to studios because
they use the big-budget movies to ramp up revenue by creating
theme park rides and TV shows and selling toys and memorabilia.
Warner Bros. is counting on a pair of "Hobbit" movies to
rekindle the magic of "Lord of the Rings." The first installment
is due in December.
A reboot of the "Superman" franchise is also scheduled for
next summer with "Man of Steel," made by "Dark Knight" producer
Legendary Pictures. Nolan, one of Hollywood's hottest directors,
is a producer on that movie.
The films could pave the way for Warner to unite Batman,
Superman and other characters from its DC Comics stable in a
"Justice League" movie, said Gitesh Pandya, editor of website
Box Office Guru.
That would follow the strategy that brought staggering
success to Walt Disney Co with "The Avengers," a movie
that brought together a handful of Marvel superheroes and
generated nearly $1.5 billion in worldwide sales.
One problem for Warner Bros. is that not every DC Comics
character has been a phenomenal hit, Pandya said.
Last summer's "Green Lantern" did not work very well, he
said, grossing $219.8 million. Some industry watchers said the
movie cost $200 million to produce, though Warner has disputed
that figure. Studios receive about half of box office sales.
The 2006 "Superman Returns" also disappointed, Pandya said.
The aim is to create another series like Batman, which won
critical acclaim, fan devotion and $1.4 billion in ticket sales
for "Batman Begins" in 2005 and 2008's "The Dark Knight."
"The Dark Knight" grabbed $158 million in the United States
and Canada on its opening weekend in 2008, a record at the time
and still the highest debut for a movie that was not boosted by
higher-priced 3D tickets.
Opening weekend ticket sales for "Dark Knight Rises," which
cost $250 million to produce, had been expected t o at least
match the last Batman film, according to box office forecasters,
and possibly reach as high as $198 million, just shy of the $207
million record set by "Avengers" in May, some industry analysts
Beyond superheroes and the "Hobbit," Warner intends to bring
"The Hangover 3" to theaters next summer, the next installment
in the adult comedy series that has grossed $1 billion.