The masked gunman who opened fire during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises early Friday morning in Colorado killed at least 12 innocent victims and injured dozens more. The vicious actions were far more brutal than anything perpetrated by the villains onscreen. One hesitates to discuss financial matters in the same breath as the human toll of this or any tragedy. Still, while it may never be possible to understand the motivations of bloodthirsty madman, the suspect seems to have wanted his deranged message to be heard and felt by the biggest possible audience, choosing to disrupt the rollout of what many expected to be the biggest box-office hit of the year, if not of all time. What is the likely impact as news of the shootings resonates in the coming days and weeks?
There are many unknowns regarding the tragic shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Was the suspect, 24-year-old James Holmes, somehow inspired by the violence and villains on screen? (He was wearing body armor and a gas mask, somewhat similar to Batman‘s nemesis in the film, Bane, and he reportedly told police that he was the Joker.) Did the suspect plan his attack to coincide with one of the movie’s big shoot-‘em-up scenes? (Because of the timing, and the fact that many fans were also dressed up in character in the theater, many people on the scene weren’t initially aware of the shootings, or thought it was a prank.)
While more details will surely be revealed in time, many questions will never be answered, and the rampage that took place will never make sense. Nonetheless, the tragedy is being portrayed as an isolated incident—one that isn’t necessarily going to have much, if any, impact on The Dark Knight Rises at the box office.
One anonymous Warner Bros. executive told the Hollywood Reporter, “The company is devastated, but everything is moving forward” regarding the studio’s release of The Dark Knight Rises. (Time Warner, if you weren’t aware, owns both Warner Bros. and TIME.)
A few notable changes have been made after the shootings, however. The red-carpet Paris premiere of the film has been cancelled, as have all scheduled press events regarding the movie. Security is being increased at theaters around the country. The New York City Police Department is deploying officers to screenings “as a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons,” according to Commissioner Raymond Kelly. Likewise, Sergeant Chuck Slater of the LAPD Hollywood Area, announced, “Our units have been directed to give extra patrol to the theaters, especially those that would have a midnight showing of the Batman movie … Just providing extra patrol when they can in between calls for service when they can.”
According to Deadline.com, Warner Bros. has just decided to stop showing a trailer for a forthcoming film called Gangster Squad because of a scene in which a mobster with a machine gun shoots up a movie theater.
No theaters have announced plans to cancel showings of the film—with one obvious exception. The Cinemark where the shooting took place has been closed off as a crime scene, and no show times are listed for any films at least through next week.
As for the shooting’s impact on movie ticket sales this weekend, and in the weeks to come, the jury is out. “Most people have made up their minds already as far as wanting to see the film,” says Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. “Maybe there will be a change as to when they’ll see the film. Most people know that their safety is probably still secure. There’s a chance that people might wait until next week to go see it.”
“This is such an unprecedented thing,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com Box Office. “There have been shootings at theaters in the past, but nothing remotely on this scale. It’s so early after the incident took place that it’s really difficult to foresee what the effects might be.”
Before the tragedy occurred, advance and midnight sales for The Dark Knight Rises were exceptionally strong. Early estimates have it that fans purchased roughly $27 million worth of midnight screenings, easily topping The Avengers debut ($18.7 million for midnight shows). The record for midnight ticket revenues isn’t in jeopardy, however: It’s held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, which registered a stunning $43.5 million midnight debut last summer. Unlike the purely 2-D The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers and the Harry Potter film had the advantage of charging a few dollars extra for many tickets because they were released in a 3-D version.
Analysts had predicted that The Dark Knight Rises would hit gross ticket sales in the neighborhood of $185 million to $195 million over the three-day weekend, and that the movie perhaps even has a chance of surpassing the all-time opening weekend record held by The Avengers ($207.4 million). These predictions were made before the tragic shooting occurred early on Friday morning, however. Post-shooting, no one really knows what will happen.
“I’d hate for this to have a chilling effect on whether people go to the movies, though it might this weekend,” says Hollywood.com’s Dergarabedian. “For fans, it’s worth taking a deep breath, and understanding that this is a very unfortunate event, but an isolated one.”
While analysts seem to think that the shootings won’t hurt The Dark Knight Rises, as disturbing as it may sound, because the tragedy is such big news, the event could possibly even help ticket sales. “No one wants to talk about this, but realistically, this is free advertising for the film,” says David Mumpower, of BoxOfficeProphets.com. “Sickly, it may be the equivalent of what happened when Heath Ledger died, which probably boosted sales for The Dark Knight. You can’t ignore the fact that every 24-hour news channel and website is covering this. It’s the discussion of the day, and the movie is on people’s minds.”