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Movie theater shooting: Shaken film industry reacts

The deadly rampage in Colorado shattered a fundamental appeal of moviegoing: a chance to escape the humdrum for a world of fantasy. Now, theater owners and theWarner Bros.studio must figure out whether"The Dark Knight Rises"can still be an entertaining diversion, not a reminder of a tragic mass shooting.

The shooting also raised the specter among moviegoers that they could become targets, leading theater owners and some police forces to step up security measures this weekend.

“It’s horrifying what happened in Colorado and it makes me scared about copycats here,” said Katie Gerber, 34, who had tickets for a Friday afternoon screening at the ArcLight in Hollywood. “I’m not nervous to go see the movie now, but it’ll be hard not to think about it during the gun-fighting scenes.”

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“The Dark Knight Rises” was poised to become one of the summer’s biggest box-office hits. The film took in $30.6 million at midnight screenings, the second-biggest midnight opening of all time, and box-office experts said the sequel could gross as much as $200 million in its first three days of release, a mark which only"The Avengers"has surpassed.

In a statement, director Christopher Nolan acknowledged the damage the shooting had done to the sanctity of the moviegoing experience.

“I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime,” Nolan said in a statement. “The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”

TIMELINE: Mass shootings in the U.S.

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While a number of theater owners publicly said the show must go on, one exhibitor conceded that parents in particular may be reluctant to send their children to “The Dark Knight Rises” — or any movie for that matter. Attendance at some Friday morning screenings proved sparse, and several theater chains said they would honor ticket-buyer requests for refunds.

Because so many of Friday’s “Dark Knight” tickets were pre-sold, it was difficult to immediately determine if the shooting was having a material effect on attendance.

Warner Bros., the studio behind the $250-million-plus production, entered crisis mode after the news broke of the shooting at a midnight showing of the movie. The studio immediately canceled a splashy Friday night premiere in Paris for which director Nolan and the star-studded cast led by Christian Bale had already flown across the Atlantic, as well as media events next week in Tokyo and Mexico City.

PHOTOS: Colorado movie theater shooting

TV ads touting the film were pulled from most major networks, including CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN, and Warner Bros. ordered a halt to showing all trailers for its upcoming film “Gangster Squad,” which features a violent shootout in a movie theater.

Shortly after the shooting, the Burbank studio issued a statement expressing sympathy for the victims. The senior executive team led by Chairman Barry Meyer met at 10 a.m. to discuss how to handle issues such as marketing and premieres without seeming crass or insensitive, according to people at Warner not authorized to speak publicly.

Studio staffers from around the world began gathering on conference calls as early as 5 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time to discuss how to respond to the shooting. Most other business was on hold in Warner Bros.’ film department as employees quickly moved to rewrite plans for their most important release of the year.

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Theater owners said they were reviewing their security procedures. AMC, the nation’s second-largest theater chain, said it would not allow guests to wear costumes “that make other guests feel uncomfortable” or permit fake weapons or face-covering masks, as some people have worn to the earliest “Dark Knight Rises” screenings. Patrons at some theaters, including a Regal theater in Washington, had their bags checked by theater employees as a precaution.

But exhibitors ruled out measures such as bringing in metal detectors, calling them intrusive and difficult to implement.

“It’s physically impossible to check every person absent turning it into airport-level security, and no one wants to do that,” said Bruce Frank, president and chief executive of Frank Theatres, which operates 26 locations in states including New Jersey, Florida and North Carolina.

TIMELINE: Mass shootings in the U.S.

Ted Mundorff, president and chief executive of the 60-location Landmark Theatres chain, said exhibitors always place a premium on their patrons’ safety and comfort, in large part so moviegoers can “enjoy escaping and visiting other worlds.”

But even with additional security measures, he said, it would be almost impossible to thwart an attack like the one in Aurora, which he called “an American tragedy.” Said Mundorff: “The reality is you don’t stop somebody like this.”

Anyone near a theater on Friday could tell it was not business as usual. The L.A. and New York City police departments said they would station officers at cinemas showing “The Dark Knight Rises” this weekend, and some theater chains said they would bring in extra private guards to make patrons feel safer.

The National Assn. of Theatre Owners said it had circulated to members various security guidelines provided by the Department of Homeland Security, such as ensuring that emergency plans are current and staff are trained to report suspicious activity.

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“We’ve had no guidelines to go by because this kind of thing just doesn’t happen,” said Phil Zacheretti, president and CEO of Phoenix Big Cinemas, a Knoxville, Tenn., company that operates 25 theaters in 15 states. “In my 37 years in the industry, I don’t recall a premeditated planned attack liked this.”

Zacheretti said he met with staff Friday morning to review security measures and reminded them to report suspicious activity and double-check that exit doors are properly secured. He said the Colorado shooting could prompt his and other theaters to install security monitors on exit doors.

But Zacheretti and other theaters owners said they had no plans to check patrons’ bags or install scanners. “We’re not going to start checking everybody’s purses,” he said. “We’re a place of enjoyment, where people come to be entertained.”

In Utah, the popular Megaplex Theatres chain said it was moving forward with parties it had scheduled to celebrate the opening of Nolan’s new film.

“We have a Gotham City bat cave set up at one of our theaters, and a bat signal beaming up onto some of our buildings,” said Blake Andersen, senior vice president of Megaplex, which has 16 cinemas in Utah, one of which was the second-highest-grossing location in the country for post-midnight screenings on Friday. “This is a random act of violence that could have happened at a mall or at McDonald’s or a school — and now in a movie theater. The worst thing we can do is hunker down and let these random few bad guys win.”

At L.A. area theaters, numerous patrons said that although they had followed news of the shooting, they did not change their moviegoing plans. “I’m not scared — because I can’t live my life like that — but it’s still a scary, scary thought,” said Val Herrador, 22, from Valley Village.

Added Jannik Berum, 19, who was visiting Hollywood from Denmark: “It’s a bit weird, but I want to see the movie. I’m not afraid. It happened in Colorado. That’s a long way.”

john.horn@latimes.comben.fritz@latimes.comrichard.verrier@latimes.com

Times staff writers Danielle Paquette, Amy Kaufman, Steven Zeitchik, Joe Flint and Meg James contributed to this report.

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