Record-breaking sequel nabs $314.2 million

Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight” continued its record-breaking crusade over the weekend, grossing an estimated $75.6 million from 4,366 theaters at the domestic box office.

The huge weekend means the pic broke the $300 million barrier in only 10 days and is quickly careening toward the $400 million mark.

No other film in history has made so much in its sophomore sesh, and the “Dark Knight” cume has reached $314.2 million. Batman sequel declined just 52% over the weekend.

That wasn’t the only good news at the box office. Sony’s Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly comedy “Step Brothers” opened to a pleasing $30 million from 3,094 runs, putting the R-rated pic at No. 2 for the weekend.

And Universal holdover “Mamma Mia!” remained a crowd-pleaser, declining just 36% in its second weekend to $17.9 million from 2,990 and placing No. 3. Cume is $62.7 million.

The only title coming in on the low end of expectations was 20th Century Fox’s “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” which opened to an estimated $10.2 million from 3,185, putting it at No. 4.

The struggling specialty biz saw some several high-profile pics open, with Miramax’s “Brideshead Revisited” nabbing a per location average of $10,061 as it grossed $332,000 from 33 theaters (see sidebar).

The weekend’s total ticket sales were running just slightly behind the same frame a year ago. Hollywood wasn’t sure it would be able to match last year, when Fox’s “The Simpsons Movie” opened to a boffo $74 million. Both the summer and the year are running slightly ahead of the record-breaking year of 2007.

Thanks to the runaway success of “The Dark Knight,” Warners crossed the $1 billion mark in 2008 ticket sales on Sunday — earlier in the year than ever before. Studio predicts it will overtake Paramount and become No. 1 in market share by the end of the week.

Studio now believes that “Dark Knight” has a shot at making north of $500 million domestically, becoming only the second film to do so after “Titanic,” which grossed $600.8 million in North America. The next two top-grossing pics after “Titanic” are the original “Star Wars,” which ultimately grossed $461 million domestically — including re-releases — and “Shrek 2,” which made $436 million domestically.

“Dark Knight” jumped the $300 million mark in a record time of 10 days. It took 16 days for previous record-holder “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

The previous record-holder for best second weekend at the domestic box office was “Shrek 2,” which earned $72 million over Memorial Day weekend 2004. “Dark Knight” didn’t have the benefit of a holiday frame.

“We’re on target to reach $400 million in 18 days. The current winner in terms of the race to $400 million is held by ‘Shrek 2,’ which reached it in 43 days,” Warners prexy of distribution Dan Fellman said. “People love this movie. Plus, there is terrific repeat business.”

Imax also continues to see record-breaking results from the Christopher Nolan-directed superhero pic (Nolan shot several segments with large-format cameras.) For the weekend, the movie’s Imax haul was $4.6 million from 94 theaters for a per location average of $48,500.

“We’re in unchartered territory. These are unprecedented numbers for us, and most shows continue to be sold out. We continue to add shows,” said Imax Filmed Entertainment chair-prexy Greg Foster.

“Dark Knight” cost about $180 million to produce and was co-financed by Warners and Legendary Pictures.

Sony said “Step Brothers” was off to a great start in light of all the oxygen sucked away by “Dark Knight.” Comedy reunited Ferrell and Reilly with “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” director Adam McKay, who penned “Step Brothers” with Ferrell.

Film skewed young and male, with 54% of the audience male and 66% under age 25.

“Considering that a lot of the film’s audience is the ‘Dark Knight’ crowd, we’re in a very good position,” Sony prexy of distribution Rory Bruer said. “People love the chemistry.”

“Talladega Nights” opened to $47.5 million in August 2006.

“Step Brothers” was produced by Judd Apatow, Jimmy Miller and Gary Sanchez Pictures, the production shingle run by Ferrell and McKay. It was co-financed by Sony and Relativity Media and cost $65 million to produce.

The audience turning up for “X-Files: I Want to Believe” — coming six years after the TV series went off the air and a decade after the first feature film — was evenly split among men and women. It skewed older, with a full 70% of the audience over age 25, signaling that the film appealed primarily to fans of the hit series.

First feature “The X-Files,” which opened to $30.1 million in June 1998, was noticeably different in scope and size from “I Want to Believe.” The earlier pic furthered the alien-abduction storyline so popular in Chris Carter’s TV series and relied heavily on special effects.

“I Want to Believe,” directed by Carter and reteaming series stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, is smaller in feel, having cost $29 million to produce.

“The movie was made for a great price. When including our international box office, ‘I Want to Believe’ will be very profitable. Film was made for the fans, and they have turned out,” said Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson.

Opening in its first 22 territories over the weekend, “I Want to Believe” grossed $9.3 million.

Elsewhere at the domestic box office, Warner continued to see strong results for New Line and Walden Media’s 3-D action-adventure “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” which placed No. 5 for the weekend, grossing an estimated $9.4 million from 2,688 runs. Cume of $60.2 million in its third sesh underscored the value of being able to charge more for 3-D shows. Pic declined just 24%.

Sony’s Will Smith starrer “Hancock” jumped the $200 million mark domestically, declining 42% in its fourth weekend to an estimated $8.2 million from 3,309 to come in No. 6. Cume is $206.4 million.

Disney-Pixar’s “Wall-E” neared $200 million, falling just 37% in its fifth frame to an estimated $6.3 million from 3,044, putting it at No. 7 for the weekend. Cume is $195.2 million.

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