By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 20, 2008 at 7:48AM
It's a strange high-low time, as industry folks batten down the hatches in the face of tighter credit and an unresolved de facto SAG strike. There's unemployment, fewer movies being made, agency attrition, layoffs across many companies, and yet the summer b.o. is going strong, and breaking records.
Despite its grim take on the world and two and a half hour running time, The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins, broke b.o. records: its estimated $155 million gross was the best three-day opening ever, beating Spider-Man 3's $151 million in 2007. (It scored 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, narrowly beating Iron Man's 93%.) Another funny thing happened at the summer boxoffice: movies that nabbed good reviews lasted longer in theaters than the ones that got creamed. There is hope for us yet.
The Top Ten boxoffice cumes to date this summer, with Rotten Tomatoes scores, are:
1. Iron Man $314.4M 93%
2 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull $312.5M 76%
3. Kung Fu Panda $206.5M 88%
4. Hancock $191.5M 38%
5. Wall-E $182.5M 96%
6. Dark Knight $155.3M 94%
7. Sex and the City: The Movie $149.8M 51%
8. Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian $139.3M 66%
9. Incredible Hulk $131.7M 67%
10. Wanted $123.3M 73%
Clearly, Hancock, starring fluke zone star Will Smith, is the 2008 exception that proves the rule.
Meanwhile women and Abba fans gave the musical Mamma Mia! a respectable $27.6 million opening estimate. Thanks to strong holdover business from Journey to the Center of the Earth, Wall-E and others, the weekend broke the record for a non-holiday gross with a total $250 million. Hellboy took a hit from direct fanboy competitor Dark Knight, declining 71%.Everyone seems to lament the ever-eroding ratings for Hollywood's biggest night. They blame the host and the length of acceptance speeches, but the real reason, in my opinion, is the obscurity of some of the selections. One role of the Oscars is certainly to champion smaller films, but the awards should also recognize the year's best popular entertainment. The Dark Knight and Wall-E are both Oscar caliber movies in my mind. Last year, there should have been a Best Picture slot for The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal). If the industry wants a return to its rating glory, voters should not narrow their list of nominees exclusively to small, well-reviewed art films.
I suspect The Dark Knight will wind up with many Oscar nominations, mainly in the technical categories, as well as Heath Ledger's supporting actor slot. Best picture? I don't know about that. As for Pixar's lauded Wall-E, here's why the animated film will find tough sledding en route to a best picture Oscar.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]