The Dark Knight

Stephen Vaughan / DC Comics

Within days, The Dark Knight will have made as much money, and maybe more, than Batman Begins made during its entire four-month theatrical run.

A record-shattering debut will help you perform a superhuman feat like that.

Final numbers released today show The Dark Knight amassed $158.4 million in its opening weekend, up $3.1 million from Sunday's estimates.

The movie's first three days broke down like this, per Exhibitor Relations Co.:

  • $67.1 million on Friday, the biggest ever opening day, single day and Friday on record
  • $47.7 million on Saturday
  • $43.6 million on Sunday, now the biggest ever Sunday on record

Despite grousing from Warner Bros.' rival studios about supposedly optimistic estimates, as related in blogger Nikke Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily, The Dark Knight beat projections every day, save for Saturday, when it just fell shy of the initial $48 million estimate.

While Friday's performance was the biggest, Sunday's performance might have been the most important.

Warners initially pegged the movie to do about $39 million. When it wound up besting that figure by $4.5 million, it put even more distance between itself and Spider-Man 3, the deposed weekend champ.

Given the final stats, The Dark Knight would seem to have indisputably topped Spider-Man 3 even down to the number of tickets sold, roughly 22.4 million to roughly 22 million—figures derived by dividing the opening weekend gross by the year's average ticket price ($7.08 in the case of Dark Knight; $6.88 for Spider-Man 3).

The indisputable becomes disputable, however, because The Dark Knight opened on 10 more Imax screens than Spider-Man 3—a record 94, in all—and because Imax theaters are pricier than regular old multiplexes. (Per the New York Times, the average Imax ticket currently costs $12.80.) If anything, The Dark Knight did better in Imax than at the regular old multiplex, averaging a whopping $67,036 per giant screen, for a record $6.3 million overall in the format.

Don't bank on The Dark Knight to pause, and analyze the numbers. By Friday morning, it could have itself yet another record: biggest ever opening week.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest currently holds the title, with a $196 million Friday-Thursday take. Box Office Mojo's Brandon Gray thinks The Dark Knight will challenge, and then keep going. And going.

"The Dark Knight has an excellent shot at hitting $400 million," Gray says. "[Dead Man's Chest] surpassed $400 million without a bigger opening...And I think people like The Dark Knight better than Dead Man's Chest."

Only seven movies in Hollywood history have made at least $400 million domestically; Dead Man's Chest was the most recent to join the group, in 2006.

For Gray's money, nothing The Dark Knight does will be more impressive than if, and when, it quickly surpasses Batman Begins, its predecessor in the franchise, which, no slouch, grossed $205.3 million in 2005.

Says Gray: "That is quite exceptional."

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