It's as hallowed a statistic to Hollywood as Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak is to baseball: "Titanic's" record box-office gross of $600.8 million. All of a sudden, that mark might be within "The Dark Knight's" reach.
Distribution executives have started debating in earnest the potential total "Dark Knight" haul, which already has passed $300 million and is projected to eclipse the $400-million mark on Aug. 4 or 5. Although half a dozen industry insiders surveyed Monday said "Titanic's" record appeared safe for now, the majority of distribution executives placed the film's probable final gross just past $500 million, thanks in part to repeat business from across the audience spectrum.
That would make "The Dark Knight" the second-highest grossing film of all-time, ahead of 1977's "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" (whose combined theatrical releases total $461 million) and 2004's "Shrek 2" ($436.7 million).
In its second week of release, "The Dark Knight" grossed $75.2 million, for total sales of $313.7 million. The Warner Bros. sequel's performance was especially strong on Sunday, with a gross of $23.7 million. Rival distributors said that was evidence that older moviegoers, families, Latino and African American audiences were flocking to the film, because those moviegoers tend to turn out at the end of the weekend.
The film appears on track to pass the $400-million mark as early as Monday, in which case "The Dark Knight" would pass that benchmark in its 18th day of release. The film to have passed $400 million most quickly up until now is "Shrek 2," which took 43 days to get there.
"Titanic," which opened in 1997 but did most of its business in 1998, was the nation's No. 1 film for a remarkable 15 weeks in a row. Although it never sparked weekend business like "The Dark Knight," writer-director James Cameron's epic love story generated enormous repeat business from teenage girls.
"The Dark Knight" is also drawing a steady stream of repeaters; one rival distribution executive said his teenage kids had seen the film three times. And that kind of can't-get-enough interest has helped start the "Titanic" comparisons.
"We are honored to be considered in that company," said Dan Fellman, the domestic distribution chief for Warner Bros. "But I think 'Titanic' will hold that record for eternity."
Because "Titanic" came out when movie tickets were much cheaper (an average of $4.69 in 1998), it could still have sold more tickets than the "Dark Knight" will, even if the latter film somehow ends up grossing more. The average movie ticket will probably run about $7 this year.
Regardless of inflation's effect, "The Dark Knight" is clearly the story of Hollywood's summer.
"This has become a cultural phenomenon on so many levels," said Greg Foster, the president for Imax Filmed Entertainment, whose "Dark Knight" sales have surpassed $16.4 million, a record. "Even my dad [septuagenarian movie producer David Foster] has seen it three times."