Though the tragic movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., cast a pall on the opening of "The Dark Knight Rises," it didn't seem to keep crowds away from the new Batman film this weekend.
The final installment in Christopher Nolan's trilogy grossed about $162 million upon its domestic opening, according to projections from sources in Hollywood. The official estimates that studios typically distribute on Sunday were withheld this week because of the massacre at a post-midnight screening of the superhero film that left 12 dead and dozens more injured.
Before the events in Colorado transpired, pre-release audience surveys had forecast that "The Dark Knight Rises" would likely collect between $180 million and $200 million during its first weekend in theaters. If the $162-million estimate is confirmed when the official weekend figures are issued Monday, the movie will have notched the third-highest debut ever -- not adjusting for inflation -- behind only two 3-D films, "The Avengers" and the final entry in the "Harry Potter" series.
In 2008, "The Dark Knight" debuted with $158 million and went on to become one of 12 films to gross over $1 billion worldwide.
Warner Bros. and other major film studios cited respect for the grieving families as the reason for not releasing box office revenue figures Sunday. The company that gathers box office data, Rentrak, also did not report weekend numbers.
Of course, there is no way to quantify how much Friday's shooting rampage affected opening weekend receipts for "The Dark Knight Rises." Many moviegoers purchased their tickets to the film in advance of the weekend; a handful of theater chains said they would honor buyer requests for refunds.
A number of cinema executives interviewed by the Los Angeles Times on Sunday said they did not notice a discernible difference in attendance over the weekend.
"Attendance has been staggering," said Kristina Hershey, the manager of Entertainment Cinema in South Kingstown, R.I. "We've had a handful of customers ask if we're checking the emergency doors. ... (But) I don't think it's hindering a lot of people here from going to the movies."
Paul Glantz, the chairman of Emagine Entertainment -- which has six theaters in Michigan -- said nearly all of the chain's "The Dark Knight Rises" screenings sold out on Saturday.
"Most of our guests understood that this was an isolated incident," he said. "I think there was a perception among our guests that they weren't going to allow the horrific act of one deranged individual stop them from living their lives."
Nationwide, the $250 million-plus production attracted more males than females, as 64 percent of the crowd was composed of men. The audience -- 55 percent of whom were over the age of 25 -- loved the movie starring Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader, assigning it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore.
It remains to be seen if that strong word-of-mouth will persuade those who stayed out of the theater this weekend to see the movie in the coming weeks.
"The pattern of behavior after 9/11 was that the airline industry suffered a terrible setback, but eventually the fear about flying subsided," said Emagine's Glantz. "I think there will be a period of healing, and then anyone who has reservations about going to a movie again will return as the fear subsides."
Overseas this weekend, "Dark Knight" ticket sales were strong, as the film grossed approximately $80 million from 17 foreign markets including the United Kingdom, Spain and Australia, said a person familiar with the information who wasn't unauthorized to speak publicly about the matter. Next weekend, the movie will be playing in 57 countries overseas -- all of the major territories abroad, excepting Italy and China.
On Friday, Warner Bros. said it would cancel the remaining red carpet premieres for "The Dark Knight Rises" abroad, which were to take place in Paris, Mexico City and Tokyo. The film has yet to open in any of those three countries, so it's uncertain whether ticket sales will be affected there. However, this weekend's international grosses indicate that the film is still on track to do massive business abroad -- an important factor for Warner Bros. because international sales will be key to the film's ultimate financial success.
"The Dark Knight," the second in Nolan's Batman series, is the only member of the billion-dollar club to gross more ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada than abroad. The third has a good shot at surpassing its predecessor's $469 million overseas tally because the international market has expanded greatly for Hollywood event films during the last four years.
In the wake of the shooting on Friday, a handful of broadcast and cable channels nationwide removed advertising for "The Dark Knight Rises." By Sunday, however, the television spots were back to running as originally planned, according to two knowledgeable people not authorized to discuss the topic publicly. But it is typical that the majority of TV ads for a movie would have run in the week leading up to its opening as opposed to afterward.