Batman takes aim at Spider-Man's throne

Warner Bros.’ Batman sequel “The Dark Knight” grossed $155.3 million in its opening to become the top opener of all time for a three-day weekend, besting “Spider-Man 3,” which debuted to $151.1 million.

“Dark Knight” grossed a record-breaking $67 million on Friday.

Directed by Christopher Nolan and returning Christian Bale as the caped crusader, “The Dark Knight” easily soared past the $59.8 million earned by the “Spider-Man” three-quel on its first Friday in May 2007.

Not only that, but the smash success of “Dark Knight,” along with Universal’s musical romp “Mamma Mia” and several strong holdovers, should deliver the film biz the best three-day weekend ever in terms of overall grosses, which could come in as high as $250 million. Previous record-holdover was the weekend of July 7, 2006, which brought $218.4 million in total grosses, led by the $135.6 earned by “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dean’s Man’s Chest.”

“Mamma Mia,” based on the West End musical, proved the ideal counter-programming as it unspooled Friday, earning an estimated $9.6 million from 2,976 runs to place No. 2 for the day.

That puts “Mamma Mia” on track to match or best the $27.5 million opening of musical “Hairspray” on the same weekend last year. That’s an impressive feat, considering no one expected “Dark Knight”—playing in a record 4,366 runs–to be such a behemoth. Film toplines Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried.

Starz Media and Vanguard’s toon “Space Chimps,” the weekend’s other new wide entry, grossed an estimated $2.5 million as it opened in 2,511 runs. Twentieth Century Fox is distributing. “Space Chimps” placed No. 7 for the day.

The Batman sequel’s transformation into the event film of the summer confirms that Warners and Nolan have successfully relaunched a franchise that has seen several stops-and-starts. “Dark Knight’s” added appeal is due at least in part to the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine also star.

Of “Dark Knight’s” total Friday’s haul of $66.4 million, $18.5 million came from midnight shows, beginning at 12:01 a.m. Friday. That beat the previous midnight record set by Fox’s “Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith,” which grossed $16.9 million from 3,663 venues.

Even with the entry of “Dark Knight” and “Mamma Mia,” several holdovers saw good returns on Friday, considering the competish. Sony’s Will Smith tentpole came in No. 3, declining 57% for a cume of $182 million. Placing No. 4 was New Line and Walden Media’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in 3-D. Action adventure, distributed by Warners, declined 48% on its second Friday to an estimated $3.5 million for an eight-day cume of $34 million.

U’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” saw a steep drop of 77% on its second Friday to an estimated $3.2 million from 3,212 runs to place No. 5 for the day. Eight-day cume is $49.6 million.

Disney-Pixar’s “Wall-E” remained a vibrant player, declining just 47% to an estimated $2.9 million from 3,310 runs for a cume of $175.5 million as it enters its fourth weekend.

Anthony D’Alessandro contributed to this report.

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