In the battle of the summer superhero blockbusters, journalists and box-office analysts pitched the story as "The Avengers" versus "The Dark Knight Rises." Could Marvel's crazy experiment pay off? Would it be enough to stop Batman from owning the box office once again? Most had "The Dark Knight Rises" pegged to repeat the magic that was 2008's "The Dark Knight" and the phenomenon that followed, but that was before this past weekend.
When the underdog in a war for box-office supremacy takes in $207.1 million during its opening weekend, the tide tends to shift in its favor. As soon as "The Avengers" finished its record-smashing debut, "The Dark Knight Rises" became the underdog, a shoo-in for second place.
But what happened to seemingly damn Christopher Nolan's final Batman movie to runner-up status?
The Dark Knight
When the follow-up to "Batman Begins" hit theaters in July 2008, it was a cultural event. Not only had expectations been so high for the sequel of the first great Batman movie, but the introduction of the Joker and Heath Ledger's untimely passing made the film a must-watch. Everyone was talking about it. Not only had it captured the world's headlines, but critics praised it as something more than a superhero movie. It was the perfect storm of movie buildup. Thankfully, tragedy has not struck the release of "The Dark Knight Rises," but without the headlines, it doesn't have as much momentum as its predecessor did heading into July.
"The Avengers" Is New
People have simply never seen superheroes from different films come together to fight in a single crossover movie. That's something new, and new will always sell. While that isn't to say that "The Dark Knight Rises" isn't new, it certainly doesn't mix up the superhero genre as much as "The Avengers." Comparing the two isn't even necessarily a fair fight. Marvel had the audience invest in five movies over the course of four years, eventually leading up to an ultimate sequel for each separate franchise. Two previous Nolan films exist and came out over the course of seven years. Checking out "The Avengers" simply has a higher return rate.
The surcharge for the added dimension will likely be the death knell for "The Dark Knight Rises." Each filled seat for "The Avengers" in 3-D is an automatic advantage. This seems especially significant when you learn that 3-D screenings accounted for 52 percent of the opening-weekend gross for Marvel and Disney. The added fee was also a strong factor in driving "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" to its then-record total.
Despite both being "superhero movies," "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" are two very different films. As I discussed in last week's column, though the films feature crime fighters, they strike very different tones and attempt two very different things. "The Avengers" had crowds cheering in triumph. Its humor became an essential part of its overall entertainment value. Nolan's Batman trilogy has thus far gone for something very different. They comment on current events. There isn't always a happy ending, usually at best the glimmer of hope. "The Dark Knight Rises" may be a film people return to over a long box-office run, but "The Avengers" is the one they turn out in droves for.
Why That's OK
But here's the kicker: None of this really matters. Both films earned or will earn all our salaries just minutes after their midnight releases, and their profitability was never really in question. Christopher Nolan will work again. Joss Whedon even healed some of the "John Carter" wounds at Disney. All that matters is that we will get to see both within a few months of each other. With that in mind, how much is there really to worry about?
Which movie do you think will come out on top? Let us know in the comments below or tweet me @KPSull!
Check out everything we've got on "The Dark Knight Rises."