Can ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ break ‘The Avengers’ opening weekend record?

There is a friendly battle brewing between two Burbank studios this summer, and the first salvo was fired with the amazing opening of “The Avengers” this weekend. The Marvel Studios superhero team monstrosity awarded Walt Disney Studios bragging rights to the largest 3-day opening in history with $200.3 million in ticket sales. Across town, Warner Bros. has Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” waiting in the wings for July. In 2008, Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” set an opening weekend record with $158.4 million, which was later broken by studio stablemate “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2.”  

Just a few weeks ago, many in Hollywood would have put their money on “The Avengers” having a $150-160 million debut, but “The Dark Knight Rises” setting a new record a few months later. That’s all changed. Joss Whedon’s critic and audience favorite has made history and Warner Bros. now enters the publicity war of expectations. You can easily break down the obstacles in the way of “Rises” making “The Avengers”‘ reign short-lived.  

3D ticket prices
Unlike “Dark Knight Rises,” “Avengers” had the benefit of significantly higher 3D ticket prices and IMAX theaters.  52% of “Avengers”‘ opening weekend came from 3D ticket prices. To demonstrate how that can affect grosses, in Los Angeles a regular adult ticket price for “The Avengers” at Pacific Theaters The Grove is $13.75. An adult 3D ticket price is $17.25.  Consider that discrepancy nationwide and across thousands of theaters and you’ll understand why opening weekends have soared in recent years.  
Advantage: “The Avengers”

IMAX just ain’t the same
Additionally, “Rises” will only be shown in regular theaters and IMAX theaters (and non-3D IMAX mind you).  “Avengers” was in IMAX and IMAX 3D theaters. For anyone who thinks IMAX can make up the difference it’s important to know that there are just 583 IMAX venues worldwide. Like “Avengers,” “Rises” will be in about 4,300 plus theaters.
Advantage: “The Avengers”

Family friendly

Exit polls (which aren’t as scientific as you’d think, but that’s for another story) showed the audience split 50/50 over and under the age of 25.  It was also 60% male. And while “Avengers” and “Rises” are both PG-13 (or will be), it’s hard to find any industry distribution vet who doesn’t believe the former is more family friendly than “The Dark Knight Rises.” When you are selling out almost every show, does the audience demographic matter? Lionsgate and Summit – who have the experience of the “Hunger Games” and “Twilight” films under their belt – would say “no,” but we’re not so sure.
Advantage: “The Avengers”

Finale factor

While there has been decades of pent up demand for an “Avengers” movie from generations of comic-book fans (hint, hint Warner Bros.), you cannot discount the effect a finale film has on a franchise (or expected finales). In the last decade, “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” “Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “The Bourne Supremacy” all opened substantially higher than their predecessors. Considering the critical and consumer reverence for “The Dark Knight,” to say “Rises” is highly anticipated is something of an understatement.
Advantage: “The Dark Knight Rises”

Of course, this blockbuster comparison may soon become moot. This is complete conjecture, but it wouldn’t surprise this industry observer for Warner Bros. to move “The Dark Knight Rises”‘ opening day from Friday, July 20 to Wednesday, July 18.  This would diminish the three-day opening weekend comparisons, as “Rises” would then be considered a five-day debut. It’s not unheard of for a summer release to open mid-week, and doing so would immediately diminish any opening comparisons between the Marvel and DC franchises.  And, considering Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment’s stumble last summer with “Green Lantern” (while Marvel over performed with “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avengers”), it could easily be an “everyone wins” scenario.  

No matter what “Rises”‘ performance is in July, “The Avengers”‘ opening is a huge kick-off for Hollywood’s summer hopes.  Especially with some of May’s other releases appearing as if they will have more modest debuts than expected. In fact, “The Avengers”‘ long term playability should be boosted by the fact the next big monster on the release schedule looks to be “Snow White and the Huntsman.” That Universal tentpole doesn’t hit theaters until June 1.

Who do you think will win the opening weekend war this summer? Share your thoughts below.

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