Nick Rogers: ‘Dark Knight’ faces ‘Titanic’ task

Nick Rogers

"The Dark Knight”? Little movie, might have heard of it. Maybe even seen it … five times already.

It sure seems as if there’s no box-office record this “Batman Begins” sequel — which already has blown by most of its projections of popularity — hasn’t shattered or won’t shatter.

It has the highest-ever opening day and opening weekend. It’s 2008’s top-grossing movie after just 13 days in release. It’s the highest-grossing Batman movie ever. It’s the fastest movie to reach $100 million, $150 million, $200 million, $250 million and $300 million. It has the highest total ever for any film after just 10 days in release, besting “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” at that same point by $55 million.

It also boasts the highest-ever total for a non-holiday-weekend Monday and the highest-ever total for a film in which a tractor-trailer flips end-over-end in downtown Chicago. (Equally silly, yes, but one of them is an actual measurement of box-office glory.)

While it’s great to see a blockbuster as exciting as it is thought-provoking be so successful, people are getting a bit carried away with where they perceive its ceiling to be. Some of them will argue there’s no ceiling.

As of Tuesday, “The Dark Knight” had grossed $324 million — a scant $76 million away from the $400-million club, which includes only seven films. “The Dark Knight” easily will hit that, expected to take in about another $35 to $40 million alone this weekend. (That said, it may or may not yield its top-slot reign to “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.”) There is no $500-million club, and how well “The Dark Knight” maintains its tally over the next two weeks will dictate whether it becomes a charter member.

Beyond that, there’s “Titanic,” the only film to ever gross $600 million in the U.S. That’s where hyperbole over how high “The Dark Knight” can go gets a little thick for me.

I don’t see “Titanic” sinking a second time.

Reports abound at the demographic crossover “The Dark Knight” is getting, but I’d be shocked if it were stronger than “Titanic.” If you were 8, it had Leonardo DiCaprio. If you were 18, it had Leonardo DiCaprio. If you were 80 years old, it had Gloria Stuart … and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Seriously, “Titanic” had everything for everyone — action, comedy, drama, romance, historical fiction, Celine Dion for the “Delilah” crowd, even Billy Zane for bad-acting connoisseurs. People went back … and back and back and back.

Yes, “The Dark Knight’s” got plenty of tragedy, but it’s mas macho than “Titanic.” What little romance it has isn’t the swooning stuff of Jack and Rose. The Joker is as immovable as an iceberg, but there’s no built-in social studies lesson of which everyone knows. People forget “Titanic” was No. 1 for 17 weekends straight, earning more than $20 million a weekend over 12 of those.

Also, hard as it is to believe, “Titanic” hit theaters about the same time most major retailers began stocking DVD players. Back then, DVD was the future of home-video presentation — better picture, greater sound, interactive features, sleeker packaging. It also cost $500 to $800 per unit — even more than a lot of current Blu-ray players that have outmoded DVD.

When “Titanic” finally hit DVD, it was during the format’s boom — the middle of 1999 — and it became the year’s top-selling DVD. Today, most films hit DVD within four months. Bet your bottom dollar, and Warner Bros.’, that “The Dark Knight” will be on the home-video market in time for Christmas … if not by the time those same 17 weeks “Titanic” spent at No. 1 have passed.

Is “The Dark Knight” a hit? Undoubtedly. Will it be influential on the future of entertainment? Probably. But not in the biggest box-office sense. Look for “The Dark Knight” to do for Blu-ray what “Titanic” (and another Warner Bros. action juggernaut, “The Matrix”) did for DVD: Push the player price down, put Blu-rays in more homes nationwide and nudge another format closer to the annals of history. 

Nick Rogers can be reached Read his blog