If the horrific opening-night theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., hadn't happened, would The Dark Knight Rises still have run behind The Dark Knight at the domestic box office?
To the studio behind both Batman films, there's no question it wouldn't have. But debate points remain.
Is Bane less of a draw than the Joker? Is a movie nearly three hours long a tougher sell than a movie that runs closer to two? And, the big one, is the new Christopher Nolan film just not as satisfying as the director's previous blockbuster?
A look at the big questions:
Villains? "It could just be people loved the Joker more than anything, that the idea of Bane just didn't do it for it," Box Office Prophets' David Mumpower says. To be sure, the Joker is the most famous of all comic-book villains, and The Dark Knight, not The Dark Knight Rises, has him. Add in Heath Ledger—a popular actor in his last major performance that, oh, by the way, is "peerless"—and it's hard not to think The Dark Knight had an edge here from the start.
Run Times? The new film is two hours and 45 minutes; the 2008 sequel is two hours and 30 minutes—and so what? If there has been carping about The Dark Knight Rises being too long, then there were similar complaints about The Dark Knight. Also, Avatar didn't suffer from being pretty close to three hours itself.
Likability? Going by the Rotten Tomatoes scores, critics liked The Dark Knight slightly more than The Dark Knight Rises (94 percent to 87 percent). On the same site, fans also narrowly favored the 2008 film (96 percent approval rating to The Dark Knight Rises' 92 percent). Paying customers—opening-weekend audiences—gave both films the same solid A grade. The bottom line: The numbers show people are liking The Dark Knight Rises just fine. Remember: Even sequels that audiences don't like—at all—can and do open bigger than the films that preceded them. (See: Spider-Man 3.)
Aurora? If you're looking for the ultimate reason The Dark Knight Rises didn't open bigger than The Dark Knight, you've found it. (And yes, the new film technically outdid the debut of the 2008 film, $160.9 million to $158.4 million, but barely, and given inflation, not really at all.) But is it the ultimate reason that the new film, through Wednesday, is $44 million behind the domestic pace of The Dark Knight? Warner Bros. says yes, and the box-office math doesn't disagree.
If The Dark Knight Rises had opened just $20 million bigger, and then gone on to perform, percentage-wise, exactly as it has, all Bane love and loathing being equal, then it would be closing in on $500 million domestically rather than $400 million.
And then, no, it wouldn't be in The Dark Knight's shadow.