Box Office Special: Revere the Knight

The word is out: "The Dark Knight" is a pretty good flick. It was also something of a financial success this weekend, especially if you define "something of a financial success" as smashing every fucking record in its path!

There's not much I can say about the film that I haven't said thus far (at least until I see it again), so check out the review, or peep our EPIC podcast from this past weekend. There's also not much of a point in wrapping up just how successful Batman 2.2 was, for that I'd suggest reading here, or just pick up any newspaper that's handy. Instead, I'm going to look at some of the numbers from inside the comic adapation genre in an effort to try to add some context to "The Dark Knight's" big weekend.

Above is a chart showing the top ten comic book films as sorted by opening weekend totals. To ease the reading of the chart I've marked the highest totals in some categories with red and the lowest in blue. "The Dark Knight" set new records for a lot of different categories, but the extent to which it dominated really only becomes clear in this situation. "300" was the 8th most successful comic adaptation since 2000, and "The Dark Knight" more than doubled its opening weekend. "TDK" also doubled up the per screen averages of the 9th and 10th biggest opening films. The next measure of the film's success though won't come for a couple of weeks. "Spider Man" despite being only the 3rd biggest opening, still holds the domestic box office title among the comic book films. "TDK" is less than half the way toward that goal. The open/total numbers are also an interesting place to keep an eye out. That ratio gives us a simple but effective measure of a film's staying power. A low open/total ratio means that audiences continued to turn out and see a film as the weeks passed. We can see that by this measure, "Spider Man 2" out performed its predecessor.

This second chart gives us some different looks. The sorting is maintained from above, but some different categories give us new information. World wide success is hard to gauge at this point, but already we can see that "TDK" is on pace to demolish a couple members of this list. The budget information is a little more helpful. What we can see is that putting a lot of money on the screen doesn't always lead to high returns, particularly in the opening weekend. (For a horrific example that proves this point, see "Superman Returns," which had an opening weekend that didn't even qualify for the top ten despite being one of the most expensive films ever made.) "TDK" is actually only the 4th most expensive film of this list, behind two "Spider-Mans" and an "X-Men." This leads us to return on investment. This number is very crude, in that it doesn't include any of the peripheral revenue of the films (i.e. toy and game licenses, broadcast rights, and the real biggy, DVD sales), but it does give us an idea of how well these films performed as a function of production costs. By this measure, "TDK" will likely have some trouble surpassing "Spider-Man" for the number two spot, and has a vanishingly small chance of taking over "300's" spot at number one. To replace Spidey, "TDK" would have to crack the billion dollar mark, and for number one it would have to push that to $1.25 billion. That's just not likely., and ultimately not necessary, since there's really no question that "TDK" has been an unbelievable (and record breaking) success.

It's worth noting that "The Dark Knight" is actually one point below "Spider-Man 2" on Metacritic right now. That's pretty surprising, but personally, I've always felt that "Spider-Man 2" was the cream of the crop when it comes to comic films. I'd say "TDK" was better, but there it is, one point down. That very well could change as some other reviews roll in, though. IMDB voters, however, left no doubt about what they consider the best film of the bunch. In fact, as of last night, "TDK" was the #1 overall rated film on IMDB, where voters felt it was easily superior to such snores as "The Godfather," "The Godfather 2," and "The Shawshank Redemption."

One final point: from a business perspective, it's almost impossible to overstate the importance of "The Dark Knight's" success to Warner Brothers, as Batman is the only DC Comics property to crack this top ten list. As a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, DC hasn't produced nearly to the level of many of the Marvel properties (Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man). Last year, "300" (originally a Dark Horse comic) was a bright spot for WB, but was offset by the relative failure of "Superman Returns." It's hard to say where else, outside the Batman story arc, WB might find continued success, but "The Dark Knight" can at least serve as a tent pole under which other DC properties might be explored. The myriad differences between Marvel and DC, both in print and on film, will serve as fodder for some future comic genre related discussion.

Next week, it's back to horror (sort of) with "X-Files: I Want to Believe." To catch up on the horror box office stats, peep Horrors of 2008.

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