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Watch out, 'Dark Knight'! This movie might just break your box office record

Posted Friday, July 25, 2008 at 12:57 PM Central

by Tim Briscoe

How did 1997's Titanic earn an astounding $600 million at the box office to become the number one movie of all time? Two words: repeat business.

Teen girls flocked to mall multiplexes to swoon over Leo over and over. Women dragged their husbands to see the three-hour epic again again. (A few of us lucked out and saw Good Will Hunting instead.)

There's just no other reason for it. The movie became an event that people -- primarily females -- wanted to enjoy over again.

Superhero adventure movies like Iron Man, The Dark Knight and Indiana Jones are raking in the dough this year but I can't imagine they have a lot of repeat business. Iron Man fell out of the weekend top five after five weeks. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull dropped out after four weeks. Jury's still out on TDK of course.

When Titanic opened on Dec. 19, 1997, it stayed in the top five for 19 weeks. It ranked number one for an amazing 15 straight weekends! (A bit of trivia: Lost in Space knocked it from #1 in April 1998.)

A little movie coming this December will have filmgoers -- again, mostly female -- to see it over and over. It has a number of things in common with Titanic; enough that it might just pose a threat to Titanic's astronomical numbers. That movie is Twilight.

Twilight is only now becoming a household name. The movie is based on the popular book series by Stephanie Meyer. It's the modern day love story between a vampire and a human. It's a tale of forbidden love much like Romeo & Juliet. The couple in Twilight is ordinary girl Bella and blood-drinking immortal Edward.

When the fourth book in the series, "Breaking Dawn," arrives on shelves Aug. 2, the saga will have over 10 million copies in print. There are over a hundred fan web sites paying honor to the books.

The female fanaticism around these books is unreal. Just yesterday at the Comic-Con in San Diego, fans lined up for "nearly a mile" to get into a panel with Twilight stars according to the MTV Movies Blog.

Back to Titanic. Our resident box office expert John Couture cites three reasons for that movie's $600 million payday. They combined for what he calls a perfect storm at the box office.

  1. The Leo Effect - Teen girls paid lots of money repeatedly to see heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio on the big screen
  2. Holiday Release - Titanic earned nearly $200 million from Dec. 19 through Jan. 9, a holiday period when lots of teens are away from school/college. The movie made the bulk of its revenue during the months of January, March, and April -- a time when Hollywood typically refuses to put out quality movies.
  3. Oscar Success - Titanic won 11 Academy Awards on Mar. 23, 1998. That fueled its longevity at the box office.

So, how does Twilight compare? The closest thing to Leo it has is Robert Pattinson. He's the British actor in the lead role of vampire Edward Cullen. (He played Cedric Diggory in the last two Harry Potter movies).

I don't think he's the hunk of burning love that Leo was, but then again, I don't claim to be a teen girl -- well, not anymore at least. As Rob says in the above video, it's really the Edward character that the girls love. It could pretty much be any tall, brooding dude in the role.

The Twilight franchise is what will drive girls back to theaters again and again to see this movie. They love the characters and they love the story. The power of Meyer's books are a more-than-worthy replacement for "The Leo Effect" in the box office success formula.

Twilight does have a holiday release in common with Titanic. It's coming to theaters on Dec. 12. Just in time for many repeat performances over holiday break. There's also not a lot of big competition this December. Seven Pounds with Will Smith and The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves are both releasing the same day; they'll be no match. Coincidentally, DiCaprio and Kate Winslet re-team for Revolutionary Road on Dec. 26.

In '97/'98, Titanic had to fight off Tomorrow Never Dies, Good Will Hunting, and The Wedding Singer. There was also another movie it defeated starring Paul Newman and Reese Witherspoon -- it was titled Twilight. That totally smacks of Lincoln-Kennedy associations to me.

Does Twilight have any hope of Oscar glory? Probably not. But then again, who knows? Much of that is up to director Catherine Hardwicke to produce a worthy adaptation. She hasn't met with much critical success with her previous works -- Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown, and The Nativity Story.

The trailer (below) isn't that impressive, in my opinion. It looks too much like a Lost Boys retread. Plus, I'm not a huge fan of co-star Kristen Stewart.

Ultimately, what are Twilight's chances to break The Dark Knight's $158 million opening this past weekend? Or, Titanic's record for all time take? Slim to none, in my estimation.

To break Batman's new opening weekend record Twilight would have to more than double the current owner of best December opening. I Am Legend did it last year with its $77.2 million first weekend.

One huge point to consider is that the film is being produced and distributed by Summit Entertainment. They are very much the new kids on the block. They have only a handful of films on their resume. Its widest release was Never Back Down on 2,729 screens and it grossed just $25 million. Titanic's max screens was 3,265. The Dark Knight is on 4,366 theater screens currently. I just don't think Summit has the funding or clout to put out a movie that big.

My very early estimate -- remember, it's still five months away -- for Twilight's opening take is $36 million. It will have some longer than usual legs and gross a total of $162 million during its winter run.

Our B.O. guru John is a lot more optimistic than I. As he indicates, he has a special relationship with Twilight's opening date. Here is what he has to say:

Twilight continues the long and storied tradition of hit Hollywood movies that open on my birthday (Dec. 12) including The Godfather Part II, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, Stir Crazy and Home Alone 3. Sadly, I just don’t see the perfect storm hitting this year. There won’t be much Oscar appeal and the older audiences probably won’t get it. I’m predicting that it will open with $70 million and to finish with roughly $250 million in box office receipts.

What do you think? Can Twilight stand up to these box office records? Or will Titanic and The Dark Knight serve as garlic to the vampire flick? Let us know.