August 12, 2008 / 7:04 AM / 10 years ago

Batman won't catch "Titanic"

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Will “Titanic” ever lose its berth as the biggest movie of all time? “The Dark Knight” is racing up the ranks, but the Batman sequel will stall at No. 2 with about $510 million to $520 million, Warner Bros. Pictures predicts.

A scene from "The Dark Knight" in a photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. REUTERS/Handout

That’s far from the $601 million haul of “Titanic,” which set sail in December 1997. (Adjusted for inflation, both movies are dwarfed by the $1.4 billion haul for 1939’s “Gone with the Wind”).

The buoyancy of “Titanic” is traceable to teenage girls from Toledo to Tokyo to Timbuktu. They lined up over and over again to shed tears for Leonardo DiCaprio’s heroic character, and helped writer/director James Cameron’s maritime epic make $1.8 billion worldwide.

Fast-forward 10-plus years, and “The Dark Knight” has soared to an incredible $441.6 million domestically and $263.5 million internationally through just its first four weekends. In crushing a multitude of speed records, the superhero saga has stoked speculation that the “Titanic” record will finally run into an iceberg.

Yet the theatrical waters have changed dramatically during the past decade thanks to the rise of the megaplex — allowing double- and triple-screen showings of films in single venues — and the onset of supersaturation releasing in 4,000 or more theaters.

“Dark Knight” and other major releases now ring up mind-bending sums over their first couple weekends, with “Dark Knight” grossing a record $313.8 million domestically through its first 10 days. That makes it something of an apples-and-oranges comparison in trying to project whether the appetite for a contemporary release will match the historic performance of an older film deep into a theatrical run.

In any event, such an analysis soon could be rendered moot. For there’s one simple reason the box office party likely will end sooner rather than later for “Dark Knight,” and it’s spelled D-V-D.

Warners has yet to slot the Batman sequel’s home video release, but well-placed sources said a December release is highly likely to tap into the lucrative holiday gift-giving season. So even if “Dark Knight” topliner Christian Bale, his late co-star Heath Ledger, director Christopher Nolan or the film itself attract awards hardware in the winter, any related theatrical promos would be of limited value at the box office.

How many people are going to go see “Dark Knight” at the theater when it’s also playing in their living room?

It’s no coincidence that the only film to stand between “Dark Knight” and “Titanic” in box office rankings — “Star Wars,” with $461 million in domestic coin — also is a classic title. Video cassettes hadn’t even come into common use when the sci-fi classic unspooled in 1977.

Of course, the Imax version of “Dark Knight” holds some special theatrical appeal. But even with widespread sellouts at Imax auditoriums during the past four weeks, the availability of just 94 such venues has meant the giant-screen version of the film has tallied a notable but limited $31 million.

That’s hardly going to help fuel a theatrical run sufficient to outdistance “Titanic,” a distance almost $160 million north of where “Dark Knight” now sits.

“‘Titanic’ was once in a lifetime, and I don’t think we’ll ever have another gross like that in the history of the industry,” Warner Bros. domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. “Of course, if there is one, I’d like to have it.”

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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