'Dark Knight' expected to reach $500 million

The box office derby gets under way early this week as Sony’s stoner comedy “Pineapple Express” and Warner Bros.’ “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2″ open in theaters today.

Early opening means the films get a jump on a weekend full of Olympics coverage, which shifts into high gear Friday with the Opening Ceremony.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight” continues to loom large at the domestic B.O. Tentpole crossed the $400 million mark Monday in a record 18 days; it took previous record-holder “Shrek 2″ 43 days.

There’s universal agreement that “Dark Knight” will ultimately cume close to $500 million domestically, if not more. That would make it the second-highest grossing film of all time after “Titanic,” which cumed $600.8 million at the domestic B.O.

(The original “Star Wars” is the current No. 2 with $461 million including reissues.)

“Dark Knight” has won the box office crown for three weekends in a row, even beating the opening of Universal sequel “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” over the weekend in grossing $42.7 million vs. $40.5 million for “Dragon Emperor.”

Batman sequel declined only 43% for the weekend, a testament to the pic’s ongoing playability.

If “Pineapple Express” performs at the high end of expectations, it could come in No. 1 this weekend, although opening on a Wednesday can lower a new film’s weekend gross.

“Pineapple Express” opens in roughly 3,072 theaters, while “Sisterhood 2″ goes out in 2,667.

Starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, “Pineapple Express” is tracking strongly, skewing heavily male. Film was produced by Judd Apatow and penned by Rogen and Evan Goldberg. David Gordon Green directed.

“Pineapple Express” won’t be the only R-rated laffer in theaters, opening just a week and a half after the release of Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly laffer “Step Brothers” — also produced by Apatow and also from Sony. Studio says there is plenty of room in the marketplace for both films.

“Step Brothers” opened to $30.9 million on July 25 and cumed a tidy $66 million through Monday, according to Rentrak.

On Aug. 15, another R-rated comedy enters the market, DreamWorks and Paramount’s “Tropic Thunder.”

Like “Pineapple Express,” “Sisterhood 2″ is generating strong interest among its core demo, in this case younger females and girls. It has far more breathing room than “Pineapple Express” in terms of competish.

The original film, released in 2005, grossed $39 million domestically. Sequel should easily outpace the first pic considering that two of its stars, America Ferrera and Blake Lively, are now stars of hit TV shows, “Ugly Betty” and “Gossip Girl,” respectively.

In “Sisterhood 2,” Ferrera and Lively reteam with Amber Tamblyn and Alexis Bledel. Sanaa Hamri directed the film, which is based on the bestselling book series.

On the specialty side, Freestyle releases “Bottle Shock” in 48 theaters in key markets on Wednesday. Pic revolves around the true-life story of the 1970s blind wine-tasting contest in France that put California wines on the world map. Also Wednesday, Palm Pictures opens docu “Patti Smith: Dream of Life” in one theater in New York City.

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