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The Dark Knight Box Office: Second Biggest Blockbuster Ever?

The Dark Knight Heath Ledger Christian BaleThe Dark Knight with Heath Ledger as The Joker and Christian Bale as Batman. Co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight is “officially” trailing only Titanic at the domestic box office. But is that a fair representation of reality?
  • The Dark Knight box office: Starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, Christopher Nolan’s sequel to his 2005 global hit Batman Begins has become a box office sensation in the domestic market. But is The Dark Knight really the second biggest blockbuster ever?
  • Below is a sporadically updated look at The Dark Knight’s midsummer domestic box office trajectory, in addition to a brief glimpse at three other noteworthy releases during that period: The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Step Brothers, and Mamma Mia!.

The Dark Knight box office: Is Christopher Nolan’s mega-blockbuster truly trailing only James Cameron’s Titanic in the domestic market?

Four-day Aug. 29–Sept. 1 (U.S. Labor Day) weekend box office: The story of the summer season at the North American (U.S. and Canada only) box office is unquestionably that of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed The Dark Knight, a Warner Bros. release starring Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the recently deceased Heath Ledger as The Joker. Inflation or no, the somber superhero movie has become one of the biggest blockbusters ever in the domestic market.

As per figures found at boxofficemojo.com, just this past (extended) Labor Day weekend Nolan’s $185 million sequel to his 2005 hit Batman Begins grossed $11.1 million, reaching a cume of $504.8 million after 46 days out.

On the all-time domestic box office chart, The Dark Knight is now the second biggest blockbuster ever, trailing only James Cameron’s 1997/98 romantic/disaster drama Titanic ($600.7 million), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as star-crossed lovers.

That is, as long as we all pretend that inflation is a phenomenon only witnessed in other universes. Not ours.

The inflation factor

Once inflation is factored in – as it always must, if one wants a more realistic reflection of a movie’s overall popularity (i.e., ticket sales) – Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind apparently remains the most successful title ever in the domestic market.

Produced by David O. Selznick, distributed by Metro-Golwyn-Mayer, and starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland, the multiple Oscar-winning Civil War-set romantic drama has been the top box office hit in North America since its original release in late 1939.

So, where is The Dark Knight on the all-time inflation-adjusted domestic chart?

As it turns out, Batman and The Joker are trailing not only Scarlett and Rhett and Rose and Jack but also, in no particular order, Moses (The Ten Commandments 1956), Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Luke and Princess Leia (Star Wars), Yuri and Lara (Doctor Zhivago), Ben-Hur and Messala (Ben-Hur 1959), Danny and Sandy (Grease), a cuddly alien (E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial), a ravenous shark (Jaws), a genetically engineered T-Rex (Jurassic Park), a singing/flying governess (Mary Poppins), a singing/nonflying nun (The Sound of Music), and about a dozen others.

Besides Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight features Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Eric Roberts, Nestor Carbonell, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, and Oscar winners Michael Caine (Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986; The Cider House Rules, 1999) and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, 2004).

The Dark Knight box office reached $1 billion worldwide

Update: The Dark Knight was the top movie at the domestic box office for four consecutive weekends. At the end of its original run, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movie had collected $533.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to an estimated $469.7 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $1.003 billion.

The Dark Knight’s top international markets were The United Kingdom/Ireland ($89.2 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 rereleased domestically, earning an additional $1.5 million. To date, there have been three other rereleases (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: September 2022) stands at $535 million domestically and $471.1 million internationally, for a worldwide grand total of $1.006 billion – making it a hugely profitable release despite the superhero movie’s exorbitant $185 million production budget (as always, not including marketing and distribution expenses).

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.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor Jet LiThe Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Jet Li. Rob Cohen’s The Mummy sequel was unable to dethrone Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight at the domestic box office.

Batman defeats Mummy in battle of the sequels

Aug. 1–3 weekend box office: On its third weekend out, Warner Bros.’ Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight managed to fend off Universal Pictures’ The Mummy sequel The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, raking in $42.7 million in the no. 1 slot on the domestic chart while lifting its total to $393.8 million.

Directed by Rob Cohen, and starring Brendan Fraser and Jet Li, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor debuted at no. 2 with $40.5 million – an underwhelming figure for an action-adventure flick that cost a reported $145 million.

Adding insult to injury, the original The Mummy opened with a more impressive $43.3 million (not inflation-adjusted) back in 1999. Stephen Sommers directed Brenda Fraser and Rachel Weisz.

Besides Fraser and Jet Li, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor also features Luke Ford, Maria Bello, Michelle Yeoh, Isabella Leong, and John Hannah.

The Mummy vs. Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Update: The Brendan Fraser-Jet Li action-adventure flick The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ultimately collected $102.5 million in the U.S. and Canada and a far more remarkable $301 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $403.5 million.

Its top international markets were Russia/CIS ($27.7 million), South Korea ($26.4 million), Japan ($22.9 million), the United Kingdom/Ireland ($21.7 million), Spain ($19 million), China ($17.5 million), Germany ($16.1 million), Mexico ($15.4 million), France ($12.4 million), and Brazil ($10.9 million).

For comparison’s sake (not adjusted for inflation): Back in 1999, The Mummy collected $155.4 million domestically and $260.5 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $415.9 million.

The Dark Knight becomes fastest movie to reach $300 million milestone at the domestic box office

July 25–27 weekend box office: Starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was once again the no. 1 movie on the chart, scoring $75.2 million. Cume to date (Day 10): $313.8 million.

The Dark Knight has thus become the fastest movie to cross the $300 million mark in the U.S. and Canada. The previous record holder was Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which took 16 days to reach that milestone in summer 2006.

For comparison’s sake: This year, Steven Spielberg’s spring hit Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reached the $300 million mark on Day 39.

Step Brothers lands far behind Talladega Nights

Trailing The Dark Knight this past weekend, Adam McKay’s comedy Step Brothers, featuring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, opened with $30.9 million.

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. Budget: 65 million.

Update: Adam McKay’s Step Brothers ultimately collected $100.5 million in the U.S. and Canada and a far more modest $27.6 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $128.1 million – hardly enough for the comedy to break even at the box office alone.

Its top international markets were the United Kingdom/Ireland ($12.6 million), Australia ($7.8 million), and Spain ($1.5 million).

The Dark Knight Christian Bale Bruce Wayne BatmanThe Dark Knight with Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman. On the inflation-adjusted all-time domestic chart, The Dark Knight is trailing not only Titanic but also George LucasStar Wars, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and the Julie Andrews musicals The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins.

Batman dethrones Spider-Man: The Dark Knight has biggest domestic opening weekend ever

July 18–20 weekend box office: Directed by Christopher Nolan, and starring Christian Bale and Heath Ledger, Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight topped the North American box office with an astounding $158.4 million from 4,366 theaters.

The critically acclaimed Batman Begins sequel has thus surpassed the $151.1 million opening-weekend record of the 2007 Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire collaboration Spider-Man 3. And here’s another quick comparison: Batman Begins opened with a – relatively speaking – mere $48.7 million in 2005.

In other domestic box office news, the $52 million Universal Anglo-American musical Mamma Mia! debuted in second place with a respectable – though far from sensational – $27.8 million from 2,976 locations.

Based on the ABBA’ed Broadway musical hit about a bride-to-be and her three possible fathers, Mamma Mia! stars 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 Oscar nominee Julie Walters (Educating Rita, 1983; Billy Elliot, 2001). Phyllida Lloyd directed.

Mamma Mia! is a major international blockbuster

Update: The Meryl Streep-ABBA musical Mamma Mia! ultimately collected $144.1 million in the U.S. and Canada and a truly sensational $465.7 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $609.8 million – the only woman-centered entry (at no. 5) among 2008’s Top Ten global hits.

Following a couple of rereleases, Mamma Mia!‘s total currently (September 2022) stands at $611.3 million – making it one of 2008’s most profitable and one of Meryl Streep’s biggest hits.

Its top international markets were (including rereleases) the United Kingdom/Ireland (a whopping $95.8 million), Germany ($39 million), Japan ($27.6 million), ABBA-land Sweden (making a rare Top Five appearance, with $25 million), South Korea ($24.2 million), Australia ($24.1 million), Spain ($19.5 million), France ($13.1 million), Italy ($12.9 million), and Russia/CIS ($9.3 million).

Curiously, Mamma Mia! turned out to be a major box office disappointment in both Mexico ($3.1 million) and Brazil ($2.9 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 BOM and/or other sources.

Comments about The Dark Knight, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Step Brothers, Mamma Mia!, and other titles being hits/profitable or flops/money-losers at the box office (see paragraph below) are based on the available data about their production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production cost), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb when it comes to the Hollywood studios, 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 data regarding rebates, international pre-sales, and other credits and/or contractual details that help to alleviate/split production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses can be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is accounted for). Also bear in mind that ancillary revenues (domestic/global television rights, home video sales, streaming, merchandising, etc.) can represent anywhere between 40–70 percent of a movie’s total take; however, these revenues and their apportionment are only infrequently made public.

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 take at top-priced venues.

Heath Ledger and Christian Bale The Dark Knight movie images: Warner Bros.

Jet Li The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor movie image: Universal Pictures.

The Dark Knight Box Office: Second Biggest Blockbuster Ever?” last updated in September 2022.

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