Dark Knight Rises Tops Box Office Again: What ‘Aurora Effect’?

Don't believe the doomsday hype about audiences frightened to go to the movies. If they stayed home on Friday, it was only to watch the Olympic spectacular

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Warner Bros

The problem with American moviegoers is that they pay no attention to the pundit-and-pollster class that tells ordinary people what they ought to think and do.

Case in point: the so-called Aurora effect on this week’s moviegoing.

Boston Globe movie editor Janice Page, linking movie gore with the Aurora, Colo., slayings, said on the public-radio news show For Your Ears Only that Hollywood should “look at ways that we could be more responsible and pull back from the violence.” Harvey Weinstein of the Weinstein Co., distributor of Halloween II, Piranha 3DD and Scream 4, suggested a movie summit in which “all of us who deal in violence in movies [would] discuss our role in that.” And the NRG Research Group (short for Nordic Research Group) got a lot of attention with a poll, cited a few days ago by Nikki Finke in her Deadline Hollywood column, purporting to show “that 20%-25% of the domestic moviegoing audience was still very hesitant to go this weekend because of the Colorado theater shooting.”

(MORE: How the Aurora Killings Shattered Movie Fantasy)

Instead, movie attendance in the past 10 days has followed utterly predictable paths: people came out to see the big blockbuster (The Dark Knight Rises) and some of their older favorites (Ice Age: Continental DriftTed, The Amazing Spider-Man and Brave), avoided the turkeys delivered this weekend (The Watch and Step Up Revolution) and stayed home Friday night to watch the movie-like spectacle that opened the London Olympics.

(MORE: 10 Movies Altered After Real-Life Tragedies)

The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) again won the weekend at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates, with $64.1 million. That 60% dip from the $160.1 million it amassed on its opening weekend is sharper than the 52.5% falloff suffered by its 2008 predecessor, The Dark Knight, but softer than the 72% second-weekend drop of another final episode in a popular movie series, last summer’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. After 10 days, TDKR has earned $289.1 million — again, less than The Dark Knight’s $313.8 million in the same period but more than the Potter finale’s $273.5 million. TDKR can boast the third all-time highest 10-day domestic gross, after The Avengers and The Dark Knight.

(MORE: Corliss’s Review of The Dark Knight Rises)

Last week, many news sources reported that the Aurora massacre had scared away moviegoers. Wrong: attendance, according to Box Office Mojo, was 40% higher last weekend than the previous weekend ($231.3 million to $165 million) and up 21% from same weekend last year (when the total take was $190.6 million).

This weekend, total box-office revenue ($134.8 million) was indeed down from the same weekend last year ($179.7 million), when the new films were Cowboys & Aliens, with a $36.4 million three-day take, The Smurfs, with $35.6 million, and Crazy, Stupid, Love., with $19.1 million. The drop is almost entirely due to two related factors that have no connection to the shootings. One: Olympics coverage began with a splendid show Friday night; and two, Hollywood, knowing the Games were coming, released fewer films this weekend.

(MORE: Review of the Olympic Opening Ceremony)

Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s lavish tribute to Britain and British movies (with Her Majesty the Queen and James Bond, or their stunt doubles, parachuting into the stadium — was viewed by 40.7 million Americans, a record audience for an Olympic opening ceremony, which naturally dented the box-office numbers. Saturday, though, TDKR bounced back, with a 39.5% improvement over Friday’s tally. Ice Age, Ted, Spider-Man and Brave were all up more than 30%. Audiences didn’t stay away out of fear; they stayed home to see a bigger, better show for free.

(MORE: Is John Blake the New Bruce Wayne?)

The true weekend of comparison is not last year at this time but the weekend of Aug. 8–10, 2008, when the Beijing Olympics began. Then as now, box-office take ($121.6 million) sagged more than 20% from the revenue of the previous weekend ($153.1 million). Then as now, the two new movies were an R-rated comedy co-written by Seth Rogen (Pineapple Express instead of The Watch) and a sequel aimed at young females (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 instead of Step Up 4). And then as now, a Christopher Nolan Batman epic, The Dark Knight, held on to the No. 1 spot — and enjoyed the same 39% bump from Friday to Saturday.

(MORE: Surviving the Darkest Night in U.S. Moviegoing History)

The Dark Knight would go on to become the fourth movie in history to earn more than $1 billion worldwide. Will The Dark Knight Rises reach the billion-dollar mark? Time will tell, but after 10 days it’s more than halfway there. Its $248.2 million foreign gross, added to the $289.1 million in North America, adds up to $537.3 million. That’s not bad for a movie that a lot of people were supposedly afraid to see.

(MORE: Behind the Scenes of the Batman Trilogy)

As for The Watch and Step Up Revolution, people wanted to see movies this weekend, just not those movies. The tale of four guys protecting their neighborhood from an outer-space invasion, The Watch earned only $13 million and garnered a CinemaScore grade of C-plus. For star Ben Stiller, The Watch marked his lowest debut in a widely released film since The Heartbreak Kid five years ago. For co-star Vince Vaughn, it was his worst opening of this millennium and the lowest since he played Norman Bates in the 1998 remake of Psycho. The demographic breakdown was 60% male, 60% over the age of 25, but not enough of either group to make a difference.

(MORE: Corliss’s Review of The Watch)

The demographics for Step Up Revolution were The Watch’s mirror image: 64% of the audience was female, 71% under the age of 24; they gave the movie an indulgent B-plus. This latest entry in the dance-movie series that launched Channing Tatum to stardom took in $11.8 million this weekend, less than any of the first three installments. But as the total North American gross for the Step Up films has gradually declined (from $65.3 million to $58 million to $42.4 million), the foreign earnings have ballooned (from $48.9 million to $92.8 million to $116.9 million). Summit, the franchise’s distributor, wouldn’t mind if that trend continued.

(MORE: A Review of Channing Tatum’s Breakout Hit, Dear John)

In indie releases, the romantic comedy Ruby Sparks opened in 13 venues to a so-so $151,881. Killer Joe, the NC-17-rated drama starring Matthew McConaughey as an assassin cop who toys with a family of lowlifes, earned a similarly mediocre $37,864 in three theaters. Beasts of the Southern Wild expanded to 194 theaters and amassed an Olympics-defying $512,000; the five-week total for this acclaimed no-star dramatic fantasy is $4.8 million.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. The Dark Knight Rises, $64.1 million; $289.1 million, second week
2. Ice Age: Continental Drift, $13.3 million; $114.9 million, third week
3. The Watch, $13 million, first weekend
4. Step Up Revolution, $11.8 million, first week
5. Ted, $7.4 million; $193.6 million, fifth week
6. The Amazing Spider-Man, $6.8 million; $242.1 million, fourth week
7. Brave, $4.2 million; $217.3 million, sixth week
8. Magic Mike, $2.6 million; $107.6 million, fifth week
9. Savages, $1.8 million; $43.9 million, fourth week
10. Moonrise Kingdom, $1.4 million; $38.4 million, 10th week