Sunday Discussion: The Financial Success of The Dark Knight
In only 26 more days, The Dark Knight will finally be upon us. I know for certain that myself and probably all of the readers here on FS.net will love the film, but we'll deal with that later on. Despite our unabashed enthusiasm for The Dark Knight, it has, albeit very slim, a chance at missing its mark at the box office and performing lower than expected. A couple of articles have surfaced recently to this effect and I can't go without addressing them. And that's because I'm fully confident in the success of The Dark Knight and have no fears that it might underperform. Although I might have shocked a few people with that headline, the potential for The Dark Knight's critical financial failure is quite nearly impossible.
The article that started the ball rolling on this discussion was one written by Portfolio magazine titled Holy Bottom Line, Batman! The brief article, complete with a side-by-side comparison chart, addresses the financial success of the Batman franchise for Warner Brothers since it began in 1989. Their claim is that the franchise seems like a big money maker for Warner Brothers, but in reality "if you adjust the five films' budgets, box office returns, and lead actors' salaries for inflation, the franchise's payoff has actually shrunk." Although none of us really care about this certain statistic, the studio ended up with only a 36% ROI with Batman Begins. "Analysts project that The Dark Knight, which cost $180 million to make and also stars Bale, could gross as much as $300 million, for a return of 66.7 percent." Phew!
So it seems that my concern for the financial failure of The Dark Knight isn't that legitimate of a concern at all. However, some other writers are taking up arms and attempting to battle fans in articles that actually do put into question the success of the film. The next piece, written by Jamie Williams of Screen Rant, questions: Are Box Office Expectations Too High? I know I laughed when I first read that headline, but let's take a look at their argument before we go too far. We all remember Entertainment Weekly's Crazy Summer Box Office Predictions. The Dark Knight only making it to #6? That is laughable, especially considering Prince Caspian and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull won't reach the same heights that they predicted anyway. Has Jamie sided with Entertainment Weekly on this one as well?
Jamie claims that The Dark Knight won't get a $100 million opening weekend, citing the film's darker subject matter, 150-minute running time, and the fact that families aren't as encouraged to take their kids. All reasonable claims, but all ridiculous considering the reality of the film's potential. In the end, thankfully, he says "The Dark Knight is going to make a lot of money - easily more than the $205 million gross of Batman Begins." As for a specific estimate, here is what he says. "My guess is the film will gross around $75 to $80 million in its 3-day opening weekend. As for its total domestic box office, I think at the moment we’re looking at a solid $240 to $250 million." Another interesting prediction considering he just took the time to talk about how The Dark Knight is not going to play as well as expected.
So to look back at what we have, three different sources predict that The Dark Knight will end up with a summer total of around $250 million. I'm not so bold as to start guessing box office numbers myself, however, I will say that I think Jamie is wrong and I think The Dark Knight is going to be a huge hit for Warner Brothers. In fact, it already has all the right pieces in place to be huge, including the death of Heath Ledger. It's a sad subject and a tough one to talk about, but Ledger's death is what is going to actually boost this into the $300 million range. The Dark Knight is the one film this year that I've heard numerous people actually say they'll go to theaters to see. The last time I heard this kind of buzz was with 300, and we all know that was one of the biggest non-summer successes of last year.
At this point, all discussion about the box office potential of The Dark Knight (including this, really) is simply an attempt to capitalize on the hype for the film and attack it when it's unnecessary. We all know it's going to be big, it just seems the question is how big. I'm amazed that Indiana Jones is the only film so far to actually have a $100 million opening weekend. This only leaves just a few other films left that have the potential to break that barrier and kick Indy's ass, and The Dark Knight is one of them. We also have Wall-E and Hancock left, but the summer so far hasn't been so hot. And to me, that's a good sign that the big box office killer is just waiting to hit. And I've got a damn good feeling it's going to be The Dark Knight.