It is the rare American spectator sport that runs year-round. But not today.
Today, the weekend box office was called.
In the aftermath of the Aurora, Colo., shooting rampage, Warner Bros., as pledged, did not issue Friday-Sunday estimates for The Dark Knight Rises.The other major studios followed Warners' lead, and top reporting agencies like Exhibitor Relations and Hollywood.com did not issue reports for numbers they didn't have.
The silence was deafening.
"I cannot recall the studios ever choosing to not report box-office grosses, even around 9/11," journalist and TheWrap.com founder Sharon Waxman said in an email.
Twelve people were killed and 58 injured at a midnight Friday, opening-day screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora. The incident was the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
"All the movie studios are trying their best to be sensitive to the tragedy, and to react with the appropriate decorum," Waxman said.
Max Keiser, who cofounded Hollywood Stock Exchange, a site that taps into the box-office obsession, took a dimmer view. "[Warners] is ashamed that the box office is probably going to benefit due to the massacre," Keiser said in an email.
But the numbers are expected to tell another story. Projections are being downsized, and where once the most-optimistic estimate had The Dark Knight Rises scoring a nearly $200 million domestic debut, and challenging the opening-weekend record of The Avengers, now the talk, per Exhibitor Relations, is of an opening between $155 million and $170 million.
Presales, some made weeks in advance of the Aurora shooting, were believed to have driven much of the midnight, opening day and Saturday revenue. Sunday was to be the wild card: Would walk-ins still walk in? Would families show? The anecdotal evidence was not encouraging.
Twitter, in particular, was rife with posts on Sunday from users claiming to be moviegoers in "practically empty," "virtually empty" and "half empty" theaters showing the Christopher Nolan Batman movie. One tweet even came with a reputed snapshot of a "completely empty" screening room.
The formal proof will come Monday when Warners and the other studios release their numbers. Hollywood is delaying the box-office weekend, not canceling it, as it were.
Professor Robert J. Thompson called the box-office blackout a gesture, and in the scheme of things, not a terribly meaningful one.
At the same time, Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, did not dismiss the Sunday-morning routine that is the parsing of the weekend numbers. The game—who's ahead? who's behind?—is a sport for people who aren't necessarily into sports, he said.
And better than most sports, box-office results depend on the spectators' collective participation. "When you hear this movie or that movie broke all records," Thompson said, "you feel like you were part of something."
Just like maybe, perhaps the people in the opening-night theater in Aurora wanted to feel part of something.
"By delaying the numbers," Thompson said, "there is some [acknowledgement] that those numbers would include in them some people who went to the movies on Friday, and didn't come back."