Commentary

'Dark Knight' Box Office Off Slightly Following Tragedy

Hollywood and its associates exhibited a delicate and sensitive public persona over the weekend in the wake of the massacre at a midnight opening of “The Dark Knight Rises” early Friday morning, but the showings did go on.

Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. Pictures, which produced the final flick in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, said it would not release box office figures over the weekend “out of respect for the victims and their families” but sources tell the Wall Street Journal’s Erica Orden and Michelle Kung that the film did about $161 million in North American sales over the weekend, which is about $25 million less than had been anticipated by analysts. 

Other studios also withheld sales figures.

“Putting an emphasis on grosses at this time just doesn’t feel appropriate,” Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com, tells the New York Times Brooks Barnes. “But the money at stake was too big for moviedom to ignore, and studio officials with access to box-office numbers provided them to The New York Times,” Barnes writes. 

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The tally in the Times was a million dollars higher than the WSJ but the lower-than-anticipated figure was “an indication that some moviegoers were either not in the mood to watch a violent comic book caper or worried about theater safety after the carnage in Aurora, Colo.”

Warner Bros. canceled a red-carpet premiere in Paris Friday, and debated all day before shutting down events scheduled for this week in Tokyo and Mexico City, the WSJ’s Orden and Kung reported Saturday. And for reasons that only search algorithms can explain, one story that’s getting a lot of play on Google this morning reports that Finland is scaling back on its Batman campaign. 

Still, if the box office estimates are accurate, “Dark Knight” will finish in the top three, all-time North American opening-weekend performers behind "The Avengers" ($207.4 million) and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" ($169.2 million).

“Saddened But Undaunted, Moviegoers Line Up for 'The Dark Knight Rises,” reads a Hollywood Reporter hed. “Many expressed sympathy for the victims, some confessed to nagging concerns for their own safety,” report Maria Miracle and Austin Siegemund-Broka. “But most said they refused to let the day’s tragic events dictate their own lives.”

The Times’ Barnes also reports that audiences are giving the film an “A” rating in exit polls –- “an indication that strong word of mouth may help ticket sales in the weeks ahead.” 

Anne Hathaway, who starts as Catwoman in the film, “has labelled Friday's massacre at a Colorado screening of the Batman film an 'unfathomably senseless act' as she joins a growing list of cast and crew publicly condemning the tragedy,” the UK’s Mail.com reports. On Friday, director Nolan said: “The movie theater is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”

Even before the shootings, the film was stirring up an unusual amount of controversy and animosity. Fan response to a few negative reviews “became so venomous on the review aggregator site RottenTomatoes.com that it suspended user comments late Monday,” the AP reported last week. 

Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, meanwhile, proffered that the movie’s villain, Bane, was a thinly veiled reference to Mitt Romney’s former company, Bain Capital, that Democrats would use to sink his campaign. He later “backed off” that conspiracy theory, reports Matt Quillen on Fox 6WBRC’s, saying that “he had received more reaction to his Tuesday remarks … than anything else he ever said.” 

There were conflicting reports on whether Warner Bros. has scaled back or altered marketing for the movie. “We have not pulled back on ads or promotions,” Susan Fleishman, evp of worldwide corporate communications at Warner Bros., tellsMarketWatch’s Sue Chang in an email Saturday. But some stations, including NBC, CBS and ESPN, “have pulled TV ads for the movie from the airwaves of their own volition, according to media reports,” Chang writes.

Bloomberg’s Michael White, Christopher Palmeri and Edmund Lee, meanwhile, reported the same day thattwo versions of the commercials for the picture were pulled entirely,” according to a source “who sought anonymity because the decision isn’t public.”

Warner Bros. did pull the trailer for "Gangster Squad," a movie that “features a scene of gangsters aimlessly firing guns in a movie theater,” according toAd Age’s Jeanine Poggi, who notes that its not “wholly unusual” for studios to adjust their marketing plans based on events in the news. 

As an example, Fox changed the name of "The Watch" from "Neighborhood Watch" after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida earlier this year by a neighborhood watch captain,” Poggi reports. Earlier, it had pulled posters that showed a bullet-riddled neighborhood watch sign, explaining, “We are very sensitive to the Trayvon Martin case, but our film is a broad alien-invasion comedy and bears absolutely no relation to the tragic events in Florida," The Huffington Post’s Christopher Rosen reported.

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