- Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, has become one of the biggest box office hits ever in the domestic market. But is the Batman Begins sequel really the second biggest domestic blockbuster ever?
- Other summer box office hits in the U.S. and Canada include Pixar Animation’s WALL-E, the Will Smith action flick Hancock, the Angelina Jolie-James McAvoy thriller Wanted, and the Ben Stiller comedy Tropic Thunder.
Summer box office: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is season’s top blockbuster & one of biggest domestic hits ever
As the (actual) summer season in the Northern Hemisphere comes to an end, below is a look at the commercial performances of several major and mid-level U.S. and Canada releases in the last three months.
The story of the season is undeniably that of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which, inflation or no, has become one of the biggest hits ever at the domestic box office.
While going over this lengthy and oft-updated article, bear in mind that Hollywood’s summer season “officially” begins on the United States’ Memorial Day weekend in late May and ends on the U.S.’s Labor Day weekend in early September.
Psycho racist cop thriller Lakeview Terrace is North American moviegoers’ top pick
Summer box office – Sept. 19–21: As found at boxofficemojo.com, the top movie at the North American (U.S. and Canada) box office on the last weekend of summer was Neil LaBute’s thriller Lakeview Terrace.
The story of a psychopathically racist cop (Samuel L. Jackson) out to harass the ethnically mixed couple next door (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington), Lakeview Terrace scored a middling $15 million from 2,464 theaters.
Note: After adding another $2.9 million at no. 9, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight has reached $521.9 million in the domestic market. It has been clear for some time that there’s no way the Batman Begins sequel will overtake James Cameron’s Titanic on the (“inflation is a state of mind”) all-time domestic box office chart.
Odd Coen Brothers comedy beats Tyler Perry morality tale
Summer box office – Sept. 12–14: With a borderline decent $19.1 million, Joel and Ethan Coen’s crime comedy Burn After Reading, which premiered at this year’s Venice Film Festival, was the no. 1 movie on the North American box office chart.
On the positive side, that’s far better than the domestic debut of another crime comedy directed by the Coen brothers, The Ladykillers, which took in $12.6 million in 2004.
Featuring actor-director Tyler Perry, Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery, 1990), and nominee Alfre Woodard (Cross Creek, 1983), the morality-focused comedy-drama The Family That Preys opened at no. 2 with $17.4 million. That’s quite a bit less than the first-weekend grosses of Perry’s Meet the Browns ($20 million) and Why Did I Get Married? ($21.3 million).
Weekend flops: Al Pacino & Robert De Niro reunion + The Women reboot
At no. 3, Jon Avnet’s $60 million crime drama Righteous Kill opened with a disappointing $16.3 million. In the cast: Oscar winners Robert De Niro (The Godfather: Part II, 1974; Raging Bull, 1980) and Al Pacino (Scent of a Woman, 1992), together again for the first time since Michael Mann’s Heat (1995).
At no. 4, another new entry, Diane English’s widely panned comedy The Women, brought in only $10.1 million. In the cast: Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, and Annette Bening in the roles played by Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell in George Cukor’s better-received 1939 original.
Nicolas Cage dud tops dismal domestic box office chart
Summer box office – Sept. 5–7: As the only nationwide release this past weekend, the Nicolas Cage star vehicle Bangkok Dangerous was the no. 1 movie on the U.S. and Canada box office chart. Directed by Danny and Oxide Chun Pang, the action flick raked in an underwhelming $7.8 million from 2,650 locations.
Box office karma: Bangkok Dangerous – a critically lambasted flop in the making – has ended the domestic box office reign of Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, which three weekends ago ended the reign of Christopher Nolan’s far better-received The Dark Knight.
Tropic Thunder remains no. 1 + is The Dark Knight really the no. 2 biggest blockbuster ever?
Summer box office – Aug. 29–31: Ben Stiller’s R-rated action comedy Tropic Thunder has ruled the North American box office for three consecutive weekends.
Can it become another The Dark Knight (which topped the chart for four consecutive weekends)?
You must be kidding.
With $11.5 million, Tropic Thunder has lifted its domestic total to $83.8 million. Meanwhile, The Dark Knight took in $8.6 million, reaching a cume of $502.3 million on its seventh weekend out.
On the all-time domestic box office chart, The Dark Knight is now trailing only the Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet romantic disaster drama Titanic. On the – more realistic – all-time domestic box office chart adjusted for inflation, The Dark Knight is still trailing about two dozen titles, ranging from Gone with the Wind to the John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John musical Grease.
Note: This past weekend, Mathieu Kassovitz’s sci-fi actioner Babylon A.D. landed with a thud in second place, collecting a mere $9.5 million from 3,390 sites. The 20th Century Fox release features Vin Diesel and a name international cast that includes Mélanie Thierry, Michelle Yeoh, Lambert Wilson, Mark Strong, and veterans Charlotte Rampling (The Night Porter) and Gérard Depardieu (Oscar nominated for Cyrano de Bergerac, 1990).
The Dark Knight reached $1 billion worldwide
Update: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight ultimately collected $533.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to an estimated $469.7 million internationally, for a worldwide grand total of $1.003 billion.
The Dark Knight’s top international markets were: The United Kingdom ($89.1 million), Australia ($39.9 million), Germany ($29.7 million), France ($27.5 million), Mexico ($25 million), South Korea ($24.7 million), Brazil ($20.2 million), Spain ($16.3 million), Japan ($14.6 million), and Italy ($13.9 million).
Around the time The Dark Knight Rises came out in July 2012, The Dark Knight was re-released domestically, earning an additional $1.5 million. To date, there have been three other re-releases (2018, 2020, 2021) in various countries, most notably in South Korea in July 2020 (an additional $1.1 million; cume: $25.8 million).
The Dark Knight’s current cume (last updated: April 2022) stands at $535 million domestically and $471.1 million internationally, for a worldwide grand total of $1.006 billion.
On Box Office Mojo’s all-time domestic chart, The Dark Knight is no. 13. On the all-time worldwide chart, it’s no. 49. On the inflation-adjusted all-time domestic chart, it’s no. 33.
Sign of the times: Ben Stiller comedy ousts The Dark Knight
Summer box office – Aug. 15–17: On its fifth weekend out, The Dark Knight has finally been dethroned – by Tropic Thunder, an action comedy directed by and starring Meet the Fockers’ Ben Stiller: $16.4 million vs. $25.8 million. Since its Wednesday debut, Tropic Thunder has lifted its domestic total to $36.8 million.
Also in the cast: Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr. (whose blackface has garnered quite a bit of publicity), Jay Baruchel, and cameos by the likes of Jason Bateman, Tobey Maguire, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Alicia Silverstone, Lance Bass, Matthew McConaughey, and Oscar nominees Tom Cruise and Nick Nolte.
Note: Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona debuted in tenth place with $3.8 million. In the cast: Potential Academy Award contender Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, and Rebecca Hall.
The Dark Knight ‘officially’ the third biggest domestic blockbuster ever, but…
Summer box office – Aug. 8–10: With $26.1 million, The Dark Knight has topped the U.S. and Canada box office chart for the fourth consecutive weekend while bringing its total haul to $441.6 million.
Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed sequel to Batman Begins is now officially the third biggest blockbuster ever in the domestic market. That is, as long as we all pretend that inflation doesn’t exist.
In other words, without reflecting constant dollar values or the number of tickets sold, The Dark Knight is ahead of every single movie ever released domestically except for James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) and George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), which earned $600.7 million and $460.9 million, respectively.
The inflation factor
Now, once inflation is factored in – as it always must, if one wants a more realistic idea of a movie’s overall popularity – Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind remains the most successful release ever in the domestic market.
And so … on the – more relevant – inflation-adjusted chart, The Dark Knight is found far down the all-time list, trailing not only Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, and Titanic but also about 45 other titles, among them Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music; Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurassic Park; Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments; David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago; and William Wyler’s Ben-Hur.
Batman defeats Mummy in battle of the sequels
Summer box office – Aug. 1–3: Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight has managed to fend off Rob Cohen’s The Mummy sequel The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, grossing $42.7 million in the no. 1 spot at the U.S. and Canada box office, while lifting its domestic total to $393.8 million on its third weekend out.
Starring Brendan Fraser and Jet Li, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor debuted with $40.5 million, which is a little less than The Mummy’s (not inflation-adjusted) $43.3 million opening-weekend gross back in 1999.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor also features Luke Ford, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, Isabella Leong, and John Hannah.
The Dark Knight becomes fastest movie to cross domestic $300 million mark
Summer box office – July 25–27: With $75.2 million, The Dark Knight was once again the no. 1 movie on the domestic box office chart. Cume after scoring $23.7 million on Sunday, Day 10: $313.8 million.
The Dark Knight has thus become the fastest movie to cross the $300 million mark in the American/Canadian market. The previous record holder was Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which took 16 days to reach $300 million in summer 2006.
For comparison’s sake: This year, summer hit Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reached the $300 million milestone on Day 39.
Step Brothers lands far behind Talladega Nights
At no. 2, Adam McKay’s comedy Step Brothers opened with $30.9 million. In the lead roles: Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly.
Although Step Brothers didn’t get even close to the $47 million opening weekend (in August 2006) of McKay-Ferrell’s previous comedy, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, it at least had a far stronger debut than the combined first-weekend earnings of Ferrell’s Semi-Pro (an estimated $15.2 million in February 2008) and Reilly’s Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story ($4.2 million in December 2007).
Also in the Step Brothers cast: Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard, 1980), Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Richard Jenkins, and Seth Rogen.
The Dark Knight has biggest domestic opening weekend ever
Summer box office – July 18–20: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight topped the North American box office with an astounding $158.4 million. The critically acclaimed Batman Begins sequel has thus surpassed the $151.1 million opening record of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.
For comparison’s sake: Batman Begins opened with a – relatively speaking – mere $48.7 million in 2005.
The Dark Knight features Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne, the recently deceased Heath Ledger as The Joker, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, and two-time Oscar winner Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986; The Cider House Rules, 1999).
Based on the ABBA’ed Broadway musical hit about a bride-to-be and her three possible fathers, Universal’s Mamma Mia! debuted in second place with a respectable – though hardly outstanding – $27.8 million from 2,976 locations.
Phyllida Lloyd directed two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Sophie’s Choice, 1982), Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Dominic Cooper, Stellan Skarsgård, Christine Baranski, and two-time nominee Julie Walters (Educating Rita, 1983; Billy Elliot, 2001).
Hellboy II: The Golden Army vs. Journey to the Center of the Earth
Summer box office – July 11–13: With $34.5 million, Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi action thriller Hellboy II: The Golden Army far surpassed the $21.3 million earned by Eric Brevig’s 3D adventure tale Journey to the Center of the Earth.
For the record, Hellboy II: The Golden Army also far surpassed the box office take of its predecessor, Hellboy, which raked in $23.2 million on its opening weekend in 2004.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army features Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Luke Goss and veteran John Hurt.
Greeted by mixed reviews, Journey to the Center of the Earth features Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson, Anita Briem, and Seth Meyers. And newfangled 3D visual effects or no, the most notable big-screen transfer of Jules Verne’s classic 1864 novel will likely remain the well-regarded 1959 version starring James Mason, Arlene Dahl, Pat Boone, and Diane Baker under the direction of Henry Levin.
Notwithstanding Sony’s overestimate, Hancock has an undeniably strong debut
Summer box office – July 4–6: Featuring Will Smith as a drunken superhero out to clean up his image, Peter Berg’s $150 million adventure comedy-drama Hancock topped the U.S. and Canada box office this July 4 holiday weekend with $62.6 million – which is quite a bit less than Sony Pictures’ original $66 million estimate.
Hancock has taken in $107.3 million since opening on Wednesday. Also in the cast: Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster, 2003), Eddie Marsan, and Johnny Galecki, plus cameos by filmmaker Michael Mann and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.
Note: At no. 7 on the weekend box office chart, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull added $3.8 million for a total gross of $306.4 million. The latest Raiders of the Lost Ark sequel crossed the domestic $300 million milestone a couple of days ago.
In the cast: Oscar nominee Harrison Ford (Witness, 1985), Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Oscar winners Cate Blanchett (The Aviator, 2004) and Jim Broadbent (Iris, 2001), and double nominee John Hurt (Midnight Express, 1978; The Elephant Man, 1980).
WALL-E ahead, but Angelina Jolie-James McAvoy thriller is strong runner-up
Summer box office – June 27–29: As expected, Pixar Animation’s computer-generated romantic sci-fi adventure WALL-E was the top movie this past weekend, collecting a hefty $63 million.
So far, Pixar’s biggest weekend debut (not factoring in inflation) belongs to The Incredibles’ $70.4 million in 2004, followed by Finding Nemo’s $70.2 million in 2003, and now WALL-E tied with Monsters, Inc.
In the WALL-E voice cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Fred Willard, Kathy Najimy, Pixar’s Pete Docter, and three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver. Andrew Stanton directed.
Trailing WALL-E with an impressive $50.9 million was Timur Bekmambetov’s Wanted. Starring Oscar winner Angelina Jolie (Girl, Interrupted, 1999) and James McAvoy, the R-rated action thriller follows an accountant who, after discovering he’s the son of a professional assassin, joins his father’s secret fraternity.
Spy spoof dethrones Marvel superhero The Incredible Hulk
Summer box office – June 20–22: Based on the 1960s TV series starring Don Adams and Barbara Feldon, Peter Segal’s spy spoof Get Smart has ousted Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk from the top spot on the North American (U.S. and Canada, but not Mexico) box office chart.
The Warner Bros. release starring Steve Martin and Anne Hathaway grossed $38.7 million, while the 20th Century Fox release starring Edward Norton and Liv Tyler collected a relatively modest $22.1 million (down 50 percent) – thus barely edging out Kung Fu Panda’s $21.9 million.
And it’s clear that The Incredible Hulk won’t get even close to recouping its $150 million budget (not including marketing and distribution expenses) in the domestic market. Cume after two weekends: $97.1 million.
“The Dark Knight Box Office” endnotes
Unless otherwise noted, “The Dark Knight Box Office: Second Biggest Blockbuster Ever?” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should usually be taken with a grain of salt – via various sources, including BOM.
Comments about a movie being profitable or a money-loser at the box office are based on the available data about its production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production budget), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).
Bear in mind that contractual details and data regarding pre-sales, rebates, and other credits that help to split/alleviate production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses can be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is accounted for).
Lastly, although a more accurate reflection of a film’s popularity (i.e., its number of tickets sold), inflation-adjusted estimates should be taken with extreme caution. For instance, they’re based on average domestic ticket prices (via the National Association of Theater Owners, unless otherwise noted) whereas numerous major releases scored a large chunk of their box office gross at top-priced theaters.
Heath Ledger and Christian Bale The Dark Knight images: Warner Bros.
Robert Downey Jr. Tropic Thunder movie image: Paramount Pictures.
Jet Li The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor image: Universal Pictures.
Luke Goss Hellboy II: The Golden Army image: Universal Pictures.
“The Dark Knight Box Office: Second Biggest Blockbuster Ever?” last updated in April 2022.