‘Dark Knight’ is huge ($500M) but not so big in Japan


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Brace yourself for a new wave of clichéd Bat headlines like ‘Holy Box Office, Batman!’ and ‘Holy Half-Billion, Batman!’ The reason is ‘The Dark Knight’ has broken the $500-million mark at the U.S. box office. The AP story has the numbers:

“The Dark Knight” on Sunday became the second movie in Hollywood history to top $500 million at the domestic box office, raising its total to $502.4 million, according to estimates from distributor Warner Bros. The film hit that mark in just over six weeks, half the time it took “Titanic,” which reached $500 million in a little more than three months. “Titanic,” the biggest modern blockbuster, remains No. 1 on the domestic charts with $600.8 million. Despite its brisk pace, “The Dark Knight” is not expected to approach the total for “Titanic,” which put up smaller numbers week after week but lingered at the top of the box office for months. Dan Fellman, head of distribution at Warner Bros., said he expected “The Dark Knight” to finish at about $530 million, though it could reach $550 million if business persists as strongly as it has. “The Dark Knight” will climb to about $505 million by Labor Day, the conclusion of Hollywood’s busy summer season. That amounts to nearly one-eighth of Hollywood’s overall summer revenue of $4.2 billion, which beats the previous summer record of $4.18 billion set last year, according to box-office tracker Media by Numbers.


Moviegoers everywhere seem mesmerized by Christopher Nolan’s grim Batman film and Heath Ledger’s startling performance -- well, wait, maybe not everywhere. It seems that Nolan’s vision of Gotham by moonlight isn’t really clicking in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Over at Film Junk, they have an interesting tidbit about the anemic box-office showing for ‘Dark Knight’ in Japan:

After its second week in theaters, the movie is struggling at the box office in Japan, earning just $8.7 million thus far — almost $6 million less than what it earned in the smaller Korean market. To be fair, some of the movie’s thunder may have been stolen by the latest Hayao Miyazaki animated blockbuster, ‘Ponyo on the Cliff,’ which has tallied a staggering $93.2 million in its first four weeks. However, the numbers are even lower than for ‘Batman Begins,’ which made $14 million in its opening weekend in Japan. Historically, many Hollywood blockbusters, and comic-book movies in particular, haven’t fared well in Japan (with the exception of ‘Spider-Man’). Critic Chika Minagawa offers some possible explanations for why ‘The Dark Knight’ hasn’t caught on in Japan: “The story is very pessimistic. It has a dark and gloomy texture that Japanese movie fans do not find appealing in a ‘comic hero’ film. . . . Japanese movie fans expect such films to be fun and action packed, for the hero to be attractive, for the villain to be loud and outrageous, and for the movie itself to be easy to understand and light.”

That was posted on Film Junk a few days ago (sorry to be tardy, I was on vacation) and this critic’s quote has been picked up in several places without much skeptical scrutiny. (It’s also led to some U.S. fanboys harshing on Japan, which, if you think about it, is a bit silly.) The thing is, look at the top 10 opening weekends in the history of Japan listed by Box Office Mojo and you don’t exactly see any kind of domination by the sort of ‘light’ films that Minagawa describes.

1 ‘Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith,’ $18,975,503. 2 ‘The Matrix Reloaded,’ $18,677,181. 3 ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,’ $16,952,890. 4 ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,’ $16,676,912. 5 ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,’ $16,650,081. 6 ‘War of the Worlds,’ $15,116,883. 7 ‘The Matrix Revolutions,’ $14,882,041. 8 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,’ $14,676,989. 9 ‘Hauru no ugoku shiro’ (Howl’s Moving Castle), $13,998,152. 10 ‘Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones,’ $13,714,649.

I’d say ‘The Dark Knight’ has been undermined somewhat in Japan by its delayed release there and the amount of pirated copies of the film circulating Asia and on the Internet. There’s also the success story of ‘Gake no ue no Ponyo’ (Ponyo on the Cliff), a gentle tale about a goldfish princess from Japanese director and writer Hayao Miyazaki, whose animated film ‘Spirited Away’ won a 2002 Oscar. (‘Ponyo’ will likely be released in the U.S. in 2009; you can find the Japan Times’ review of the film here.) The movies could hardly be more different, but there is a natural fan overlap between animation and comics, enough to siphon off a bit more excitement about a Bat-film that diehard Japanese fans have probably already seen in some form or another by now.

-- Geoff Boucher

Warner Bros Films

RELATED All coverage of ‘The Dark Knight’ at Hero Complex