Ron Phillips, Warner Bros. Pictures
The Dark Knight Rises entered the record books about as quietly as a summer blockbuster can, its sweeping win at theaters this weekend overshadowed by the Aurora, Colo., massacre.
The third installment of Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise took in $160.9 million, distributor Warner Bros. reported. The opening gave it the highest debut for a 2-D movie, edging out its predecessor, 2008's The Dark Knight, the previous record holder at $158 million. Rises also scored the third-highest opening weekend overall, behind this summer's The Avengers ($207.4 million) and last year's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 ($169.2 million).
While the No. 1 debut was expected, where the film goes from here is uncertain. Many of this weekend's tickets were sold weeks in advance. The second weekend, analysts say, will determine whether moviegoers can separate the tragedy from summer entertainment.
Warner Bros. has pulled its ads for the movie in deference to the 12 people killed and 58 others wounded at the film's Thursday midnight premiere in suburban Denver. The studio has issued no public statements other than condolences to the families.
Analysts call it Hollywood's first summer blockbuster whose revenues are a side note.
"The money means less than the legacy," says Jeff Bock of industry trackers Exhibitor Relations. "You've seen the entire business essentially shut down out of respect for the families."
The major studios followed Warner Bros.' lead this weekend in holding off reporting box office grosses until Monday, a modern-day industry first.
Bock says that while the shootings may sway families from catching the grim PG-13 film, fans will still turn out - partly in defiance.
"This may be too much for young kids and families to get their heads around, even with the great reviews," Bock says. "That may be too much violence to digest. But a lot of fans are angry, and they're not going to let an isolated incident ruin a franchise they've come to love."
Fans of the caped crusader have grown used to real-world grief surrounding their hero. Talk of a Batman curse surfaced years ago after The Dark Knight star Heath Ledger's accidental overdose death before the film's release; the death of stuntman Conway Wickliffe during production; and star Christian Bale's arrest on suspicion of assaulting his mother the night of the movie's London premiere. Charges were not filed.
Jim Littler, founder of Comicbookmovie.com, agrees: "Once the tragedy in Aurora is long past, I think people will instinctively reject aligning an obvious lunatic with Nolan's masterwork."
The remaining top five films at the box office this weekend include the cartoon Ice Age: Continental Drift, second with $20.4 million; The Amazing Spider-Man with $10.9 million; the comedy Ted at $10 million; and Brave with $6 million, according to Hollywood.com.