"Nothing like this has ever happened," Exhibitor Relations' Jeff Bock said Friday.
The Christopher Nolan Batman epic grossed $30.6 million in Friday midnight screenings, Warner Bros. estimated, a staggering debut that was the second-biggest such take on record, but felt beside the point as the news from the Rocky Mountain state sunk in.
"I'm at a loss for words, which is rare," said Hollywood.com's Paul Dergarabedian, an always reliable sound bite on the box office.
The loudest silence was at Warner Bros., the studio behind the final chapter in Nolan's comic-book trilogy. About the time it normally would be trumpeting the Nolan's films overnight grosses, Warners instead issued a statement expressing sympathy to the "families and loved ones at this tragic time." (It finally released the midnight number, but did so much later than would be the norm on a high-profile release.)
A man, reportedly identified as James Holmes, 24, opened fire on the crowd during a Dark Knight Rises midnight screening in Aurora, Colo. In addition to the dozen left dead, 59 people were injured.
"I think it will hurt, honestly," Bock said. "There's definitely dark clouds now."
The Wrap reported that Warners was mulling the idea of pulling the film from theaters. But the studio told E! News there were no plans to nix screenings, even as security was being ramped up at multiplexes coast to coast, and theater owners were consulting with the Department of Homeland Security.
Asked prior to The Wrap report about the possibility of The Dark Knight Rises—arguably the most anticipated film of the summer—being withdrawn, Dergarabedian said he'd be "shocked if that happened, but it's such an unprecendented situation."
Assuming the film remains in theaters then about the only thing not in flux at this time are The Dark Knight Rises' prospects at the weekend box office.
The movie's midnight haul was nearly $12 million bigger than the one posted by the year's No. 1-grossing film, The Avengers. As a very, very hot ticket, advance sales have been through the roof. The weekend's priciest IMAX screenings across the country were already all but sold out.
"I don't know if the first weekend would be affected," Dergarabedian said. "If it's presold, it's presold."
Bock said the first signs of audience erosion would probably start to be felt on Sunday.
All bets were off for what the Colorado rampage would mean in the long run, especially for a film rife with explosions, bullets and a line from Anne Hathaway's cat-burglar character about how she wasn't really into Batman's no-guns policy.
"In the end, it's going to affect it," Bock said of the film. "It can't hep but affect it."
Nolan's previous Batman film, 2008's The Dark Knight, which was also touched by death, went on to gross more than a half-billion dollars domestically. But that tragedy was not this tragedy.
"When Heath Ledger died, people went to see [The Dark Knight] as tribute," Bock said. "This [the shooting] is a real tragedy. [The victims] they didn't do anything. They just wanted to see a movie."
(Originally published July 20, 2012, at 10:40 a.m. PT)