Batman expected to dominate box office

Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ “The Dark Knight” has a real shot at crossing the $300 million mark at the domestic box office this weekend. If it does so, it would become the first film in history to hit that mark in its first 10 days.

While the Christopher Nolan pic will dominate overall, two new players will try to grab their share of attention — Sony’s R-rated Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly laffer “Step Brothers,” which is expected to come in No. 2, and 20th Century’s “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” which could see itself in a battle with holdover “Mamma Mia!” for No. 3.

“Step Brothers” opens in 3,094 theaters, “X-Files” in 3,185.

Meanwhile, the specialty side of the biz heats up as Miramax opens “Brideshead Revisited” in 33 theaters in select markets, while Paramount Vantage bows docu “American Teen” in five theaters. (On Wednesday, Vantage saw widespread layoffs as it ceases to be a standalone specialty unit and becomes a label under big Par.)

Roadside Attraction releases Crosby, Still, Nash & Young concert docu “CSNY: Deja Vu” in six runs.

Through Wednesday, “Dark Knight’s” cume was $222.1 million from 4,366 theaters after opening to a record-breaking $158.4 million last weekend. Film has also enjoyed record-breaking weekday numbers — not counting holidays — grossing $24.5 million on Monday, $20.9 million on Tuesday and $18.4 million on Wednesday.

“Dark Knight” would need to gross more than $62 million to reach $300 million this weekend, assuming it grosses $16 million on Thursday. Some box observers put the weekend number as high as $75 million-$80 million. The movie has become a phenomenon and is already destined to gross north of $400 million domestically.

It took “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” 16 days to reach $300 million in domestic grosses and 17 days for “Star Wars — Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” Last summer, “Spider-Man 3″ hit the mark in 19 days.

With “Dark Knight” taking up so much of the oxygen, it’s difficult to predict how well “Step Brothers” and “X-Files” will do, although “Step Brothers” is tracking strongly and has the advantage of being the only new comedy.

“Step Brothers,” penned by Ferrell and producing partner Adam McKay, is a raunchy romp about two grown men who move in together with their newly married mom and dad. Pic was produced by Judd Apatow and Jimmy Miller.

Film is skewing slightly male, and slightly younger among both men and women. Box observers say the film could gross $25 million-$30 million for the weekend, although they stress that the weekend is tough to read because of “Dark Knight.”

Prospects for “I Want to Believe” are harder to pin down. It’s been a decade since the first “X-Files” feature was in theaters, and the follow-up is smaller in scope. Because “I Want to Believe” is skewing male, “Dark Knight” could take away business from the film.

“I Want to Believe” reteams series creator Chris Carter with series stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who also made the first film together. Follow-up was penned by Frank Spotnitz and Carter.

Fox minimized their financial risk by making “I Want to Believe” for just under $30 million. Film was held up in development as Carter sued Fox over profits to the TV series. Storyline isn’t about alien abduction, a main staple of the TV series and the focus of the 1998 film, which grossed $83.9 million domestically and $105.3 million worldwide.

A year ago, Fox used the same weekend to bow the feature adaptation of another hit TV series, “The Simpsons,” to boffo results.

“Mamma Mia!,” sporting a cume of $40.6 million through Wednesday, opened to $27.7 million last weekend, the best bow ever for a musical.

Int’l interests

On the foreign front, Fox should see respectable biz from its day-and-date launch of the “X-Files” sequel in 22 markets, including Australia, Brazil, Germany, Russia and Spain. The 1998 original grossed $105 million outside the U.S.

But “Dark Knight” will probably dominate overall at the international box office as its expands into 25 new markets including Benelux, Italy, Scandinavia and the U.K. The Batman pic preemed in London on Monday following its record-setting domestic launch.

“Dark Knight” notched an impressive $41.3 million last weekend at 4,520 in 20 markets via debuts in Australia, Asia and Latin America. With tentpoles jockeying for position in every market this month, Warner has opted for a staggered release pattern overseas and won’t open “Dark Knight” in France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Spain until August.

Universal’s “Mamma Mia!” should also continue seeing strong holdover biz after notching $91 million from just 21 markets in its first three weeks.

Sony’s decided to avoid going up against summer tentpoles and is keeping “Step Brothers” out of international markets until late summer. The comedy’s first foreign launch comes Aug. 29 in the U.K.

Disney’s expanding “Wall-E” into Hong Kong and Taiwan. Aside from the U.K. and Mexico, the Mouse House has held off on most major markets for the Pixar pic.

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