"Dark Knight" clears $400 million at record pace

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” smashed yet another Hollywood record as it cleared the $400 million domestic box office mark in 18 days, less than half the time it took “Shrek 2” to reach that milestone, Warner Bros. Pictures said on Tuesday.

Actor Christian Bale as Batman is shown in a scene from director Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight". REUTERS/Warner Bros. Pictures/Handout

After a third straight weekend at No. 1 in U.S. and Canadian theaters -- grossing $42.7 million Friday through Sunday -- “Dark Knight” amassed $6.3 million on Monday to bring its domestic tally to $400.03 million, the Time Warner Inc.-owned movie distributor reported.

The previous record holder, the computer-animated storybook spoof “Shrek 2,” crossed the $400 million mark in 43 days back in 2004, according to box office watcher Media By Numbers.

Warner Bros. has said it expects “Dark Knight” to add at least another $100 million to its North American ticket sales, surpassing the $461 million haul of 1977’s “Star Wars” and its two reissues. “Star Wars” ranks as the No. 2 movie of all time in the United States and Canada.

While “Dark Knight” appears destined to become only the second movie to gross $500 million domestically, the $601 million record held by 1997’s “Titanic” seems unlikely to sink, said Media By Numbers president Paul Dergarabedian.

“That $600 million is kind of one for the ages. It’s held for 10 years,” Dergarabedian told Reuters. “It’s very, very difficult to get from $500 million to $600 million. But the fact we’re even talking about it tells you something about the strength of ‘The Dark Knight’ and what a phenomenon it is.”

Adjusted for inflation, though, “Titanic” ranks at No. 6 in the record books, far behind “Gone with the Wind” at $1.4 billion, according to tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

“The Dark Knight,” the second of the newly revived Warner Bros. film franchise based on the adventures of D.C. Comics’ Batman character, is a follow-up to 2005’s “Batman Begins.”

Both films were directed by Christopher Nolan and star Welsh actor Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader. Interest in the sequel has been stoked by Heath Ledger’s edgy turn as the villainous Joker, in what turned out to be the Australian actor’s last completed role before he died of an accidental overdose of prescription pills in January.

The movie already has broken several domestic box-office records, including the biggest single-day of all time for its first day in theaters ($67.2 million); biggest opening weekend ($158.4 million) and fastest to $200 million (five days).

Through Monday, “Dark Knight” had grossed an additional $210.2 million internationally, but has yet to launch in six of the top 10 overseas markets, including Japan, France and Spain, Warner Bros. said.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh.