‘Dark Knight’ demand rises as theaters bulk up

Hefty $175 million opening weekend possible

With $25 million in pre-sales, “The Dark Knight Rises” is riding a rising wave of fanboy frenzy — but its nearly three-hour runtime is challenging theater owners who are scrambling to meet the demand.

Their solution: Fire up the graveyard shift.

Regal Cinemas, the nation’s largest theater chain, will screen “TDKR” continuously for 24-72 hours at approximately 10% of its locations. The chain, along with AMC Theaters, offers 3:30 a.m.-4 a.m. showtimes on Friday, after nationwide midnight screenings, which total approximately 3,700, according to Warners.

Chains have been adding showtimes as pre-sales spike, and will continue to do so throughout the weekend — one of the benefits of the digital conversion movement.

“We’re pulling out all of the stops to account for the demand,” said Robert Lenihan, prexy of AMC film programming. Building early Stateside buzz, Warners partnered last month with exhibs for a Batman marathon event on Friday at approximately 1,800 locations. “Batman Begins” kicks off the event, followed by “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” at midnight. AMC sold more almost 30,000 advanced tickets for the three-picture marathon.

Warners launches “TDKR” at 4,404 domestic locations — the widest Stateside launch ever for the studio — including 332 Imax runs.

Christopher Nolan used Imax cameras to shoot more than an hour of the film, spurring online buzz for the large format presentation. According to social listening aggregator Fizziology, 27% of chatter about “The Dark Knight Rises” last week included mention of Imax — about where it was for “The Amazing Spider-Man,” when the Sony pic was already in theaters.

Tracking suggests the film could reach upwards of $175 million in three days domestically — second only to 3D blockbuster “The Avengers,” which currently holds the Stateside opening record of $207 million. “Rises” could feasibly tally the largest 2D opening ever, beating its 2008 predecessor’s $158 million debut, including $18.4 million from midnights.

If “TDKR” scores at around $20 million in midnight grosses, the film will have beat “The Avengers” ($18.7 million). Still, the Batman pic isn’t expected to have as much support from families as “The Avengers,” which was 21 minutes shorter than “TDKR.”

Warners also launches the Batman finale this weekend in 17 overseas markets, including Australia, South Korea, Spain and the U.K., where the film is setting presales records. The BFI London Imax announced Wednesday that the blockbuster has already sold 62,300 tickets, grossing more than $1.57 million since going on sale five weeks ago.

As in the States, the original 43 London Imax screenings are now sold out and extra shows are being added. Advance sales for the new Batman film far surpassed the venue’s previous record holder, “Avatar,” which sold 47,000 tickets ahead of its December 2009 release.

In Japan, tickets for “TDKR” have been on sale for the past six months; other markets like France and Russia don’t pre-sell tickets at all.

(Robert Mitchell contributed to this report.)

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