Christian Bale as Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises." (Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary…)
Though the tragic movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., cast a pall on the opening of"The Dark Knight Rises,"it didn't seem to keep crowds away from the new Batman film this past weekend.
The final installment in Christopher Nolan's trilogy grossed about $162 million upon its domestic opening, according to projections from sources in Hollywood. The official estimates that studios typically distribute on Sundays were withheld this week because of the massacre at a post-midnight screening of the superhero film that left 12 dead and dozens more injured.
Before the events in Colorado transpired, pre-release audience surveys had forecast that "The Dark Knight Rises" would likely collect between $180 million and $200 million during its first weekend in theaters. If the $162-million estimate is confirmed when the official weekend figures are issued Monday, the movie will have notched the third-highest debut ever — not adjusting for inflation — behind only two 3-D films, "The Avengers" and the final entry in the "Harry Potter" series.
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In 2008, "The Dark Knight" debuted with $158 million and went on to become one of 12 films to gross over $1 billion worldwide.
Warner Bros.and other major film studios cited respect for the grieving families as the reason for not releasing box office revenue figures Sunday. The company that gathers box office data, Rentrak, also did not report weekend numbers.
Of course, there is no way to quantify how much Friday's shooting rampage affected opening weekend receipts for "The Dark Knight Rises." Many moviegoers purchased their tickets to the film in advance of the weekend; a handful of theater chains said they would honor buyer requests for refunds.
A number of cinema executives interviewed by The Times on Sunday said they did not notice a discernible difference in attendance over the weekend.
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"Attendance has been staggering," said Kristina Hershey, the manager of Entertainment Cinema in South Kingstown, R.I. "We've had a handful of customers ask if we're checking the emergency doors.... [But] I don't think it's hindering a lot of people here from going to the movies."
Paul Glantz, the chairman of Emagine Entertainment — which has six theaters in Michigan — said nearly all of the chain's "The Dark Knight Rises" screenings sold out on Saturday.
"Most of our guests understood that this was an isolated incident," he said. "I think there was a perception among our guests that they weren't going to allow the horrific act of one deranged individual stop them from living their lives."
In Los Angeles, many moviegoers who turned out to see "The Dark Knight Rises" expressed skepticism that what happened in Colorado could take place in Southern California.
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"I don't think someone is going to start shooting with an A-K at the Grove," said Noah Luger, 27, who on Sunday was buying a ticket to watch the movie at the Pacific Theatre housed in the open-air mall. "You hardly hear about things like this happening in L.A. on the news. But maybe that's just a coping mechanism I'm using to make myself feel better."
Ramir Delgado, 26, echoed that sentiment as he stood outside the Regal Cinema at L.A. Live downtown.
"I really doubt a crazy psycho is gonna shoot this place up," Delgado said, eyeing the theater. "And if something weird happens, now people will just start running."
Nationwide, the $250-million-plus production attracted more males than females, as 64% of the crowd was composed of men. The audience — 55% of whom were older than 25 — loved the movie starring Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader, assigning it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
It remains to be seen if that strong word-of-mouth will persuade those who stayed out of the theater this weekend to see the movie in the coming weeks.
"The pattern of behavior after 9/11 was that the airline industry suffered a terrible setback, but eventually the fear about flying subsided," said Emagine's Glantz. "I think there will be a period of healing, and then anyone who has reservations about going to a movie again will return as the fear subsides."
Overseas this weekend, "Dark Knight" ticket sales were strong, as the film grossed about $80 million from 17 foreign markets, including the United Kingdom, Spain and Australia, said a person familiar with the information who wasn't unauthorized to speak publicly about the matter. Next weekend, the movie will be playing in 57 countries overseas — all of the major territories abroad excepting Italy and China.