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SUNDAY 8PM UPDATE: I’ve just been told by unofficial sources that Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight is playing to packed Sunday performances for over $40M and maybe as high as $43M. That would mean a 9th record for the latest Batman installment since Spider-Man 3‘s Sunday take in 2007 was a record-setting $39.9M. It’s also now abundantly clear that the Warner Bros caped crusader will crush the old 3-day weekend non-holiday record set by Spidey 3 last year. So rival studios were wrong to question whether Warner Bros’ Sunday numbers were too aggressive! Also, Dark Knight should break its 9th record by beating the all-time weekly tally. Meanwhile, in its first six days, DK will have grossed more than the entire run of Batman Begins.

SUNDAY AM: Warner Bros is reporting The Dark Knight will finish with a total North American weekend take of $155.3M. Here’s the surprising studio breakdown: $67.8 million Friday, including those record-setting opening day midnight shows; $48 million Saturday (-29%), and projected $39.4 million Sunday (-18%). So if Sunday holds up, that FSS (Fri-Sat-Sun) non-holiday figure will be enough to snag the record from Spider-Man 3‘s $151.1 million. But it’ll be close. The latest Batman installment did not set a record Saturday, leaving Spidey 3‘s best-ever $51.3M intact. That Friday to Saturday decline looks steep, but actually they mirror each other without the opening day midnight frenzy. Total domestic grosses for all the movies playing this weekend looks around $253M. That easily shatters the best-ever FSS non-holiday overall record of $218.4 million set on July 7-9, 2006 when Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest opened. In a successful bit of counter-programming, Universal’s Mamma Mia! finished 2nd with $9.8M Friday and another $9.8M Saturday for a $27.6M opening weekend. Overseas, the ABBA musical has made a fast $72.6M in just 11 days. See Top 10 B.O. below…

But debate quietly erupted this morning when rival studios began comparing Warner Bros’ box office reporting to their own. Four studios all report numbers below Warner Bros’ figures for Friday (around $67.1M) and Saturday (around $47.1M). They also believe Warner Bros’ Sunday estimate is too high. Several rival studios are even questioning whether this Batman installment really beat Spidey 3 or not. But cooler heads are telling me that there’s bound to be number differences when sums these large are involved, plus there’s the added unknown of just how many extra screenings of Dark Knight did theater managers around the country add at the last minute in their cities and towns. “I don’t think there is really a controversy. Maybe they are just a little on the aggressive side for Friday. But, regardless, they will break the record.” Perhaps rival studio eyebrows wouldn’t be raised had Warner Bros not played fast and loose with box office figures before — most recently, Speed Racer‘s.

Media By Numbers’ OFFICIAL DARK KNIGHT RECORDS SO FAR (in order of occurrence):

1 - LARGEST NUMBER OF OPENING THEATRES WITH 4,366 (MORE THAN THE 4,362 DEBUT THEATRES OF PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END IN 2007).

2 - BIGGEST MIDNIGHT PREVIEW GROSS WITH $18.489 MILLION IN 3,040 THEATRES (BEATS STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH AND ITS $16.9 MILLION IN 2,915 THEATRES IN 2005).

3 - BIGGEST IMAX MIDNIGHT PREVIEWS SET AN NEW RECORD WITH $640,000 (INCLUDED IN THE $18.489 MILLION PREVIEW NUMBER).

4 - BIGGEST SINGLE-DAY GROSS IN BOX-OFFICE HISTORY WITH $67.850 MILLION (BESTS THE $59,841,919 SET BY SPIDER-MAN 3 IN 2007).

5 - BIGGEST OPENING WEEKEND GROSS IN BOX OFFICE HISTORY WITH $155.340 MILLION (BESTS THE $151,116 MILLION SET BY SPIDER-MAN 3 IN 2007).

6 - BIGGEST OPENING WEEKEND GROSS FOR AN IMAX RELEASE IN BOX OFFICE HISTORY WITH $6,214,061 MILLION IN 94 THEATRES WITH $66,107 PER THEATRE. (BESTS THE $4.7 MILLION SET BY SPIDER-MAN 3 IN 2007.) IMAX SHOWING AT FULL CAPACITY $1.9 MILLION ON SATURDAY ALONE.

7 - BIGGEST OPENING WEEKEND OF 2008 WITH $151.340 (BEATS INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL‘S $101.137 MILLION FROM MAY 23-25, 2008)

8 – BIGGEST JULY OPENING EVER (BEATS PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST‘S $135,634,554 ON JULY 7, 2006).

See the Batman franchise numbers here.

Believe it or not, there were other movies opening and playing at the box office.

In 2nd place, Universal’s North American debut of its movie version of the globally popular Mamma Mia! musical proved great counter-programming against Batman. It made $9.6M Friday for what should be a 3-day weekend total of $28.1M, better than Hairspray‘s $27.4M and what the studio had expected especially since ABBA was never as big in the U.S. as overseas.  Exit polling showed that  3/4 of the audience was female,  64% were age 30 or older, slightly more than a third of the audience had seen the musical, while more than half had heard of it but not seen it. The main reasons given for seeing Mamma Mia! were the “musical numbers” (56%), followed by the “songs of ABBA” (49%), “I like musicals” (47%, skewing female), and Meryl Streep (47%, especially among older females).

Sony’s holdover Hancock sat solidly in 3rd place with a $4.5M Friday and $5.5M Saturday from 3,776 plays for a $14M weekend and $191.5M new cume. It now has made a huge $444M worldwide. No. 4 was Warner Bros’s Journey To The Center Of The Earth 3D, which dropped 47% from a week ago $11.9M for the weekend and new cume of $43M. Disney/Pixar’s hit toon Wall-E made $2.9M Friday for 5th by weekend’s end with $9.8M and new cume of $182.4M. But the surprise was 6th place Hellboy II: The Golden Army‘s 71% fall from grace after finishing a big No 1 last weekend. It made only $10M this weekend for a $56.4M new cume. Obviously, the Dark Horse comic character lost out to the way-more-famous DC Comics caped crusader. At No. 7, Starz/Fox’s toon Space Chimps opened to $7.3M for FSS. Universal’s Wanted was 8th with $1.5M Friday and probably $5.1M for the weekend. At No. 9, Warner Bros’ Get Smart took in a $4M weekend and $119.5M new cume. And Paramount’s Kung Fu Panda jumped up to #10 with a $1.7M weekend and $206.5M new cume. One week after its debut, Fox’s disastrous Meet Dave fell out of the Top 10 altogether.

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.

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