The Bat as seen in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures action thriller… (Warner Bros, )
"The Dark Knight Rises"is poised for one of the biggest opening weekends of all time in the U.S. and Canada, but its ultimate box-office potential hinges on moviegoers far outside Gotham City.
Director Christopher Nolan's second movie in the Batman trilogy, 2008's "The Dark Knight," was the only movie to ever gross more than $1 billion worldwide that sold more tickets at home than abroad. So while the ultimate domestic box office tally for "The Dark Knight Rises" is unlikely to significantly exceed its predecessor's $533 million, it could far surpass the $469 million it generated overseas.
"The global upside really lies in the overseas number," said Kevin Goetz, president of research company Screen Engine.
The final entry in theWarner Bros.franchise is expected to open this weekend in the U.S. and Canada with about $190 million in ticket sales, according to pre-release audience surveys.
Meanwhile, in the four years since the release of "The Dark Knight" and seven years since the first installment,"Batman Begins,"the international market has exploded for big American event movies. Today, it's not uncommon for 70% or more of a popular film's worldwide ticket sales to come from overseas.
Much of the growth overseas for "The Dark Knight Rises," in fact, will probably come from such increasingly potent markets as Latin America, East Asia and Russia, where "The Dark Knight" performed relatively modestly.
"There are so many more screens in markets like Russia and a much greater appreciation for these types of big movies than a few years ago," said Paul Heth, a former exhibition executive in Russia who now works in movie production.
"The Dark Knight" grossed only $8.1 million in Russia, compared with $43.5 million for the recent blockbuster "The Avengers." In Brazil, the Batman film collected $20.2 million, while "The Avengers" took in $64.8 million. And in Mexico, it generated $25 million, less than half the $61.5 million taken in by the Marvel superhero team-up movie.
In addition to having two European premieres and one in Tokyo, where "The Dark Knight" also held premieres, Warner has added Mexico City to the list of cities getting a star-studded red-carpet event in a bid to juice grosses throughout Latin America.
Trailers, posters and other marketing materials for the picture are similar around the world, although in some countries, including Brazil and Mexico, the familiar name "Batman" is featured prominently above "The Dark Knight Rises" title to make clear the superhero connection.
"It's not well-known to most people here what 'The Dark Knight' means," said Paulo Almeida, director of the Brazilian motion picture business publication Film B.
Interest levels for "The Dark Knight Rises" in most foreign countries are significantly higher than for "The Dark Knight" and among the highest of any recent Hollywood blockbuster, according to two people who have seen the pre-release data but were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
But it's unlikely to rival the biggest global opening of all time — a record held by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" with $483 million — because the Batman film will open this weekend in only four of the world's top 10 markets and 17 total. Most of the rest of the world will see "The Dark Knight Rises" for the first time next week.
Among the top moviegoing countries where the movie is launching this week are Britain, Australia, Spain and South Korea. Britain, home country to director Nolan and star Christian Bale, was the biggest foreign market for "The Dark Knight," with $89.1 million.
It's not yet clear when — or even if — "The Dark Knight Rises" will open in China. That country's state-owned distributor China Film Group has scheduled it to open Aug. 30, the same date as rival superhero movie"The Amazing Spider-Man." Warner is lobbying Chinese officials to push that date back to September and may consider holding back the film entirely if its request is rejected.
Warner and financial partner Legendary Entertainment, which covered 25% of the film's budget, have a lot riding on the global success of "The Dark Knight Rises."
The movie, which has generated extremely positive reviews, cost $250 million to $300 million to make and tens of millions more to promote and release. Tax credits lowered the film's production cost to about $230 million, said people familiar with the movie's financial details who were not authorized to discuss them publicly.
Playing this weekend in 4,404 theaters in the U.S. and Canada this weekend — the second highest of all time behind the 4,468 for"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse"— the picture will almost certainly collect more than "The Dark Knight," which launched with $158.4 million.
There's a chance that the movie could beat the $207-million opening-weekend record set by "The Avengers" in May. That would be a major feat, considering that the Marvel superhero movie had the benefit of 3-D ticket surcharges, which accounted for roughly 52% of the movie's opening weekend gross. "The Dark Knight Rises," which was not shot in 3D, will collect higher ticket prices only at its 332 Imax locations.
Through Wednesday, "The Dark Knight Rises" had already racked up $25 million worth of advance ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada for the weekend, and Imax screenings after midnight Thursday were entirely sold out. Dan Fellman,Warner Bros.' president of domestic distribution, said he had heard reports that tickets were being scalped for up to $100 each.
"It's kind of crazy to me, because we have enough seats for everybody who wants to see it — and the big multiplexes are adding screens when screenings sell out," he said.