Cometh the hour, cometh the bat. People need a hero in times of trouble and with the US economy compounding the woes of Hollywood's shrinking margins, The Dark Knight swooped in to save the day just in the nick of time. The fact that Christopher Nolan's sequel has become the apple of Warner Bros' eye is due in large part to its remarkable early box office run; however there's a psychological effect here that shouldn't be underestimated.
Box-office records are all part of the game Hollywood likes to play to make itself seem more pertinent than ever to an audience faced with a growing range of affordable alternative entertainment. The DVD business has basically levelled out in the US, but it's still raking in the cash and outstripping theatrical ticket sales. VOD and internet streaming are shaping up to be the content delivery platforms of the foreseeable future and could overtake DVD revenues within five to seven years. And let's not forget video games and rampant piracy, which are both wildly popular around the world and eat into Hollywood's global theatrical revenue streams.
As a result the exhibition sector – the owners of cinema chains and independent movie houses – needs to crow about theatrical box office results to create the appearance of commercial vibrancy, even though rising ticket prices hide the fact that cinema admissions in the US are dropping. Little wonder, then, that cinemas in North America will do whatever they can to keep The Dark Knight on their screens as long as possible in the hope of perpetuating this rare money-making juggernaut.
And what a load of money it is making. It's just a matter of time before The Dark Knight becomes only the eighth film in history to cross $400m (£202m). Talk has turned to whether the bat has the chops to overtake Stars Wars' $460.9m (£233.4m) lifetime tally to become the second biggest earner in history. It could well do. Overhauling Titanic's legendary $600.8m (£304.2m) mark is another kettle of fish, however. Many believe it will never be bettered and I'm inclined to agree. Still, you never know, and I'll gladly take my hat off to Nolan if it does.
By the close of Tuesday, after 15 days on release, The Dark Knight stood at $333.9m (£169m) in the US and Canada, making it the biggest film of the year-to-date in the US and Canada and the 16th biggest release in North American history. It's been averaging a little over $10m in daily tickets sales this week thanks to rabid word of mouth and nationwide school holidays.
By conservative estimates, factoring in a 50% drop-off in ticket sales in the third weekend, The Dark Knight should boost its cumulative gross by $35-40m (£17m-£20m) by the end of Sunday, which would catapult it into the lifetime earnings top 10 on a tally of more than $380m (£192m). How much it drops off this weekend is contingent on the number of new and repeat visits and, of course, the competition. In this last regard there is more good news for The Dark Knight because it doesn't face any new releases in the same genre that threaten to cannibalise its box office.
Leading the pack is Universal's The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, in which the likeable Brendan Fraser reprises his role as the franchise's wide-eyed adventurer Rick O'Connell for the first time in seven years. The reviews have been abysmal and frankly the series that launched in 1999 looks like it will struggle to get beyond its ninth birthday. If this film doesn't pass The Mummy Returns' $202m (£102m) North American and $433m (£219m) worldwide lifetime gross set in 2001, there will be no reason for studio executives to greenlight a fourth instalment. The other wide release is Swing Vote, Walt Disney Studios' Capra-esque political satire starring Kevin Costner that should open solidly and stick around for a while. However neither has the muscle to oust the bat and we can safely assume The Dark Knight will rule for a third consecutive weekend.