Christian Bale, The Dark Knight

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros. Entertainment

Spider-Man Batman forever.

The Dark Knight chased Spider-Man 3 from the record books with a $155.3 opening weekend gross, per Exhibitor Relations Co. estimates today.

The figure capped three days of eye-popping figures for the Christopher Nolan film. The highlights:

  • The Dark Knight made more money in Friday midnight screenings ($18.5 million) than its predecessor, Batman Begins, made in any one day.
  • The Dark Knight made more money in one day ($66.4 million on Friday) than Batman Begins made in any one weekend.
  • The Dark Knight made about as much money in its second-biggest day ($48 million on Saturday) as Batman Begins made in its biggest weekend ($48.7 million).
  • The Dark Knight made more money in its third-biggest day ($39 million on Sunday) than Get Smart and You Don't Mess With the Zohan, to name two recent hits, made in their respective opening weekends.
  • The Dark Knight made more money in its biggest day than Hancock, WALL-E and Kung-Fu Panda, to name three recent supersize hits, made in their respective opening weekends.
  • The Dark Knight made more money in its opening weekend than the previous top-three-opening Batman movies (Batman Forever, Batman Begins, Batman Returns) made in their opening weekends—combined.

About the only thing The Dark Knight didn't do was keep up the frenetic pace it set with Friday's $66.4 million blowout, a performance which set new records as Hollywood's biggest-ever opening day and biggest-ever single day.

"Some people probably stayed away [to avoid] the crowds," Exhibitor Relations' Jeff Bock said.

Bock does not think audiences will stay away next weekend. He expects The Dark Knight will become only the second movie this summer, after Iron Man, to hold the No. 1 position at the box office for more than one weekend.

"Spider-Man 3 was savaged by critics, and it fell off pretty quickly," Bock said. "I don't expect anything to happen with The Dark Knight."

Especially not with the Heath Ledger factor at play.

To Bock, The Dark Knight's box office benefited immensely from both curiosity and buzz surrounding Ledger's performance as iconic Batman foe The Joker. The role was the last completed by the young actor before his death in January.

"This is really unprecedented, an actor in a blockbuster film dying before the release," Bock said.

"Unprecedented" is one word to sum up the weekend.

"Batman" is another.

More box office highlights:

  • The Dark Knight powered Hollywood to its biggest-ever weekend, as the top 12 films combined to gross $255 million.
  • Batman or no, records or no, Hollywood is still down for the year in ticket sales (off 1.3 percent) and attendance (off 4 percent).
  • If not for The Dark Knight—a very big if—Mamma Mia! would have been the story of the weekend. The ABBA-powered Broadway musical turned Meryl Streep vehicle scored an estimated $27.6 million. If the estimate holds, it'll have the record for biggest debut for a musical, edging the $27.5 million posted last year by Hairspray.
  • Hancock's legs held up well, all Bat things considered. In its third weekend, the Will Smith superhero movie took in another $14 million (third place), and raised its overall total to $191.5 million. Worldwide, it stands at a lofty $444 million.
  • Hellboy II got the short end of the superhero stick. The comic-spawned franchise fell from first to fourth, and from nearly $36 million to barely $10 million. Overall, it has grossed $56.4 million after two weekends.
  • Space Chimps (seventh place, $7.4 million) posted the biggest-ever debut for a movie with the word "chimps" in the title.
  • Eddie Murphy's Meet Dave ($1.6 million; $9.4 million overall) fell out of the Top 10 after a one-weekend stay, making Mike Myer's The Love Guru feel better.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($970,000) likewise dropped from the Top 10. Unlike Meet Dave, it enjoyed eight weekends there, and presumably is enjoying its $312.6 million domestic take even more.
  • In limited release, the cold-vacation-from-hell thriller Transsiberian, starring Woody Harrelson, scared up $35,216 at only two theaters. Its per-screen average ($17,608) was the weekend's best after...wait for it...The Dark Knight.

Here's a recap of the top-grossing weekend films based on Friday-Sunday estimates compiled by Exhibitor Relations:

  1. The Dark Knight, $155.3 million
  2. Mamma Mia!, $27.6 million
  3. Hancock, $14 million
  4. Journey to the Center of the Earth, $11.9 million
  5. Hellboy II: The Golden Army, $10 million
  6. WALL-E, $9.8 million
  7. Space Chimps, $7.4 million
  8. Wanted, $5.1 million
  9. Get Smart, $4.1 million
  10. Kung Fu Panda, $1.8 million

(Originally published July 20, 2008 at 10:06 a.m. PT.)

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