(AFP) – Jul 20, 2008
LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight" soared over the North American box-office with a record-breaking opening weekend, estimates showed, with audiences flocking to watch the late actor Heath Ledger in his final film role.
The movie, which features a mesmerizing performance from Ledger as Batman's arch-rival the Joker, took an estimated 155.3 million dollars in ticket sales, Exhibitor Relations said.
The mark shattered the 151.1 million earned by "Spider-Man 3" in May 2007, a record that many pundits believed could not be beaten by "The Dark Knight."
Prior to "The Dark Knight," "Spider-Man 3" had led the all-time opening weekend figures from 2006's "Pirates of the Caribbean 2" (135.6 million) and 2007's "Shrek the Third" (121.6 million).
Buzz has been building for weeks about director Christopher Nolan's follow-up to 2005's "Batman Begins," with several reviewers hailing Ledger's performance as worthy of a posthumous Oscar. Ledger died of an accidental drug overdose in New York in January.
Midnight screenings of "The Dark Knight" across the United States and Canada were sold out days in advance, and cinemas reported huge queues of fans lining up for tickets to later screenings on Friday.
"This qualifies as 'Holy Blockbuster!' Nobody ever expected it would be this big," said Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock, citing the "Ledger factor" as the reason for the film's success.
"I think you have to credit this to a large extent to Heath Ledger. Since he died there has been a tremendous amount of anticipation about Heath's performance. It's the sort of press you can't buy unless you're Bill Gates."
Bock noted that the film's opening was more than three times larger than "Batman Begins." "I think that indicates something very unique has happened in this case, it's an anomaly that I suspect is down mostly to Heath Ledger."
Starring British actor Christian Bale as Gotham City's famous caped crusader, "The Dark Knight" cost around 180 million dollars and was shot on location in Chicago and Hong Kong.
Unusually for a superhero blockbuster, the movie has won near universal critical acclaim, with heavyweight reviewers praising its dark themes and performances of an all-star cast which also includes Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart.
However it is Ledger's performance as the cackling master criminal that has dominated the film's pre-release.
Ledger has been heavily tipped to win a rare posthumous Oscar nomination at next year's Academy Awards.
"I can only speak superlatives of Ledger, who is mad-crazy-blazing brilliant as the Joker," wrote Rolling Stone's respected film critic Pete Travers.
"If there's a movement to get him the first posthumous Oscar since Peter Finch won for 1976's 'Network,' sign me up," Travers added.
California-based film reviewer wrote that the film "is likely to make Heath Ledger a bigger star than he ever was in life."
And British actor Gary Oldman, who plays Gotham City police officer Lieutenant Jim Gordon, told reporters during a press event in Beverly Hills this month he expected Ledger's performance to earn an Oscar nod.
"The Academy doesn't always recognize work in this kind of genre, but I think he's probably going to get an Oscar nomination," Oldman said.
"Over the years when I've seen great performances -- (Jack) Nicholson in 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' Al Pacino in 'Dog Day Afternoon' -- you go 'wow, there's something really special at work here.' And I think Heath's done that here. It's like he's gone through the sound barrier."
Bock meanwhile said Warner Bros studio had done an "excellent" job of marketing "The Dark Knight" without exploiting Ledger's tragic death.
"It was potentially awkward but they did an excellent job, staying true to what Ledger would have wanted for the film as an actor, and respecting the sensitivies of his family," Bock said.
"The Joker is the iconic villain of the Batman films and there is no way you could have marketed this film without putting him front and center of the publicity," he added.
With "The Dark Knight" dominant this weekend, it was left to Abba musical "Mamma Mia" to lead the best of the rest, opening with 27.6 million. Will Smith's "Hancock" was third with 14 million.
Copyright © 2014 AFP. All rights reserved. More »