As the film industry worries about audience fears at movie theaters, there's a temptation to pass some quick judgments about the long-term impact of the Aurora tragedy on movie attendance.
This weekend at least, we should not overlook the more important X factor ---the opening of the Olympics. That made a difference in two crucial ways. First, unlike most summer weekends, television provided major competition. That's why the studios tried to stay out of the Olympics' way.
So there is nothing to panic about. This weekend's estimated grosses are ahead of the last summer Olympics in 2008, roughly $135 million to $121 million (even better after adjusting for higher ticket prices). The top 10 without "The Dark Knight Rises" would be below the total four years ago (the fourth weekend of "The Dark Knight"). But a second weekend for the current Batman film -- #1 for the weekend despite a 60% drop -- makes for more of a "go to" film than the previous entry (fourth-ranked), so this isn't too surprising.
The top new movie four years ago was "Pineapple Express," which got much better reviews than this year's two new releases, "The Watch" and "Step Up Revolution," which marked unimpressive openings.
Did "The Dark Knight Rises" lose moviegoers after the Colorado shootings? This weekend will come into better focus with 20/20 hindsight, when the Olympics and Aurora have receded into the rear view distance.
3. "The Watch" (20th Century-Fox) - #3 for weekend; Metacritic score: 36
$13,000,000 in 3,168 theaters; PSA: $4,104
Though its neighbors-battling-aliens story has nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin tragedy, this film already had its violence-in-the-news issue when initially publicized as "Neighborhood Watch." Fox managed to minimize that damage, but even with a cast of recent marquee draws -- Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill-- yet another raunchy frat boy genre entry could not overcome blah or worse reviews, particularly with "Ted" still grossing well.
What it means: The closing ceremony for this likely won't come too much later than the one in London. And with a high $60-million budget, the road to profit will be steep.
4. "Step Up Revolution" (Lionsgate) - #4 for weekend; Metacritic score: 43
$11,800,000 in 2,567 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $4,597,000
After three earlier editions in this dance/musical series, and one previous already in 3-D, Lionsgate took over distribution from Disney (its newly merged partner Summit was co-producer of the previous films). The result is a gross about 25% below what "Step Up 3D" achieved without Olympic competition in 2010.
What it means: With a reported production cost of over $30 million, this will need to do considerably better internationally. The last effort did reach $116 million outside the US, so this seems doable.
1. "The Dark Knight Rises" (Warner Bros.) - #1 for weekend
$64,100,000 in 4,404 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $14,350; Cumulative: $289,100,000
First things first: $64 million for a second weekend--without a 3-D surcharge--is a terrific gross. A steep second week fall (60%) is not unusual for the third in a series (particularly when the previous entry was a bigger event film). That the gross fell at the level it did is a factor of Olympics competition, more mixed reaction than initially anticipated (and the lack of a villain at the level of Heath Ledger's Joker), plus some post-Aurora fears. But that's in the overall mix, not remotely the whole story.