The tragedy in Colorado notwithstanding, Warner Bros. is going full-steam ahead with its massive foreign rollout of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Warner Bros. canceled plans for star-studded premieres in Paris, Mexico City and Tokyo over the weekend, but confirmed Tuesday it is going ahead with the film’s major global expansion. It will add 40 more territories to the 17 it opened in over the past weekend, for a total of roughly 17,000 screens.
Despite the Aurora, Colorado, theater massacre, in which 12 were killed and 58 injured, "Dark Knight Rises" has performed strongly at the North American box office, taking in more than $180 million in four days since its Friday opening.
"This film was always going to do well and I don't think this changes anything," one industry insider told TheWrap. "It's a terrible reality, but for much of the world, this is more than a movie now, it's a headline."
If the film does play particularly well overseas it will be a coup for the studio, because Batman movies have typically played better on the home front than abroad. The previous film in the franchise,
“The Dark Knight,” is one of just two films among the 35 top worldwide moneymakers that did the majority of its business domestically (the other is “E.T.”).
It’s off to a good start. "Dark Knight Rises" brought in $88 million over the three-day period, with strong showings in the United Kingdom, where it grossed $22.5 million. It also made $15.7 million in South Korea, $15.5 million in Australia and $4.8 million on foreign Imax screens.
Overall, 55 percent of the Batman franchise’s $2.6 billion in grosses have come from North America. Compare that with the “Harry Potter” films from Warner Bros., which drew just 31 percent of their $7.7 billion gross domestically, or the studio’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which made 35 percent of its $2.9 billion at home, and you see what an anomaly Batman has been.
Michael Uslan, a producer on “The Dark Knight Rises” and all of the previous Batman films, said before the film's release that he believes this is because historically, Batman has been an American hero.
“Batman represents 75 years of folklore in the United States,” Uslan told TheWrap, “but the rest of the world has only known him for the past 10 years.”
He gives director Christopher Nolan much of the credit for broadening the character’s appeal.
“Batman is the only superhero in the world without super powers,” Uslan noted, “He’s just a man, but a man who as a child watched his parents murdered in front of him and decided from that point on to fight for justice. That’s primal, and provides an appeal that transcends cultures and borders. Nolan has really brought that out.”
And it's about to pay off overseas, according to BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino, who said he believes “Dark Knight Rises’ is going to reverse the trend.
“It really started with the last film,” he told TheWrap Tuesday, “and this one is going to do better than that.”
“The Dark Knight” made $533 million overseas and $469 million, or 53 percent, domestically in 2008. The first Nolan film, “Batman Begins,” made 55 percent of its $373 million in the U.S. Compare that with 1992’s “Batman Returns,” on which foreign contributed just 39 percent of its $269 million worldwide total.
The foreign box office has grown, too. Theater chains adding cineplexes have struggled to keep up overseas audiences’ increasingly voracious appetite for movies. Foreign grosses hit $22.4 billion last year, while the U.S. and Canada were at $10.2 billion, so the stage is set for Batman to break through.
Another factor working in favor of the Caped Crusader’s bid to rule the world is China.
In 2008, China had a strict 20-film per-year quota and “The Dark Knight” never played there. Warner Bros. has received the go-ahead on “The Dark Knight Rises” from Chinese film authorities, but has not set a release date. When it does bow on roughly 4,000 screens there, it should have a good shot at breaking the record $58 million bow of the “Titanic” re-release earlier this year.