Can The Dark Knight topple Titanic?

Will The Dark Knight overtake all comers to smash Titanic's box office record? Well... maybe


When Batman Begins managed to pull itself over the $200m mark at the US box office back in 2005, finishing with a take of $205m, it was – all considered – regarded as not a bad haul. While it didn’t eclipse the $251m the original Batman film had grabbed for itself back in 1989, it was still nearly double the gross of the supposed franchise-killer, Batman & Robin.

However, looking at it in the cold light of day against the Spider-man movies, DC’s champion was lagging some way behind the Marvel web-slinger. Of the Spider-man films, the original’s $403.7m is the most successful, and until later this week, is the most successful comic book adaptation and superhero movie of all time.

Yet, after just 18 days, The Dark Knight had hauled in $400m, and still had a surge of energy behind it. Because right now, it’s not just about to blast Spider-man’s numbers, but it’s the first film to have a decent shot at Titanic’s staggering $600.7m US domestic record since it was set back in 1998.

So where can The Dark Knight actually end up? Warner Bros argues that it’s got at least $100m of life left in it at the US box office, which would see it overtake all the Star Wars films, Shrek 2, E.T. and the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie to slide itself into second place. In fact, the haul of $500m that Warner Bros is coyly predicting would see it in second by considerable distance: the original Star Wars film currently fills the runner-up slot, with $460.9m amassed, including re-releases.

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Our current thinking is that The Dark Knight may yet get to around $525m before it finishes its US box office run, but it looks unlikely to get close to Titanic’s haul, unless the repeat business that’s fuelling Batman’s box office continues. That said, it’ll still have to go some way to beat the Leo-mania that spurred on Titanic’s numbers, which are unlikely to be matched in the next few years either.

Because to get anywhere close to grossing half a billion dollars at the US box office, you need to have far more than a film. Titanic had the long-running saga of it shooting over budget, the eventual rave reviews, and the blasting of Leonardo di Caprio’s star into the stratosphere all at the same time. Throw in a record-equalling number of Oscars, and the film’s box office receipts were clearly fuelled by more than just the movie itself.

It’s the same, of course, with The Dark Knight. The quality of the film, and the standard-defining viral marketing campaign, would arguably have sent it towards $350m anyway, yet the Heath Ledger effect has clearly had a large part to play, too. The tragic early death of the actor, combined with his haunting performance as The Joker, has given The Dark Knight a box office surge and a half, and continues to do so.

Working in The Dark Knight’s favour in at least punching for Titanic’s record is the relative weakness of the incoming August release schedule. The third Mummy film is arguably the stiffest competition it’ll face, and it saw that off last weekend. The rest of August features Vin Diesel in Babylon AD, Seth Rogen in The Pineapple Express, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Kiefer Sutherland in Mirrors and potential comedy hit Tropic Thunder. There may be a few hits in there, but there’s no major flick moving into The Dark Knight’s demographic.

Worldwide? Well, Titanic still holds the record there too, with an astounding $1.8bn, followed by the last Lord of the Rings film ($1.19bn) and the second Pirates movie ($1.06bn). While The Dark Knight has a strong shot at being only the fourth movie ever to break the $1bn box office barrier worldwide, it’ll have enough of a job to shift Lord of the Rings, yet alone get close to Titanic numbers. Thus far, its total take worldwide is $600m, including that American box office total, and while it’s enjoying major success outside of America, it’s again likely to miss Titanic’s record.

That said, for a comic book adaptation, in terms of box office performance there’s simply nothing that’s come close to The Dark Knight, and the likelihood that there’s nothing that will for quite a while. Even if Christopher Nolan delivers a third film up to the same standards, the combination of factors that’s powered The Dark Knight’s financial performance is unlikely to be matched.

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Don’t let that stop you making said film though, Mr Nolan…