Dark Knight Takes Top Spot For Third Weekend

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Even an army of the undead could not dislodge Batman from his box-office perch.

The Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight" hauled in $43.8 million to rank as Hollywood's top movie for the third-straight weekend, fending off "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," which opened a close second with $42.5 million.

"The Dark Knight" has soared to a $394.9 million haul in just 17 days, according to studio estimates Sunday. The Warner Bros. release should sail past the $400 million mark by Monday or Tuesday, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner.

That would be on the film's 18th or 19th day of release, another record for "The Dark Knight," which had an all-time high opening weekend of $158.4 million. The previous $400 million record-holder was "Shrek 2," which hit that mark in 43 days.

"It's a film that is just rewriting the record books every day and redefining our notions of what a blockbuster can be," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Media By Numbers.

"The Dark Knight" will top $500 million, predicted Fellman, who would not speculate on whether it could approach the all-time domestic revenue record of "Titanic" at $600.8 million.

Even if it edged past that mark, "The Dark Knight" would lag behind "Titanic" in terms of actual tickets sold. Admission prices are up more than 50 percent since "Titanic" came out in 1997, according to Media By Numbers. "The Dark Knight" would have to take in about $900 million to match the number of tickets that "Titanic" sold.

In terms of revenue alone, however, "The Dark Knight" will pass the original "Star Wars," which is No. 2 behind "Titanic" with $461 million, and such hits as "Shrek 2" ($436.5 million), "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" ($434.9 million) and "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" ($431.1 million).

Early anticipation over Heath Ledger's diabolical performance as Batman foe the Joker built to a frenzy in the months after the actor's death from an accidental prescription drug overdose in January.

A huge opening weekend was guaranteed, but the movie has sustained its audience from stellar reviews and audience buzz.

"The movie has grown in terms of its base audience from primarily what was conceived as a young male movie to a movie for everybody, from 8 to 80," Fellman said. "They're going to see it because of the reviews, they're going to see it because of the word of mouth. They're going just to see what it's all about, and they all like it."

"The Dark Knight" also has taken in $202.5 million overseas, opening in six more markets in August, among them Japan, France and Russia.

Universal's third "Mummy" flick sends Brendan Fraser's adventurer and his wife, played this time by Maria Bello, to China, where they battle a resurrected ancient ruler, played by Jet Li, and his undead minions.

Though it put up strong numbers, the new installment had the smallest opening of the three movies. "The Mummy" debuted with $43.4 million in 1999 and "The Mummy Returns" did $68.1 million in 2001.

Along with its $42.5 million domestic haul, the new "Mummy" tale pulled in $59.5 million in 28 countries overseas.

"The Dark Knight" almost certainly took away some business from the "The Mummy," since both movies competed for the same action crowds.

"It looked like we could do somewhere between $45 and $50 million, but no one could have foreseen the juggernaut `The Dark Knight' has become," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal.

Disney's "Swing Vote," about a presidential election that hinges on the lone ballot of an over-the-hill slacker played by Kevin Costner, opened weakly with $6.3 million, coming in at No. 6.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "The Dark Knight," $43.8 million.

2. "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," $42.5 million.

3. "Step Brothers," $16.3 million.

4. "Mamma Mia!", $13.1 million.

5. "Journey to the Center of the Earth," $6.9 million.

6. "Swing Vote," $6.3 million.

7. "Hancock," $5.2 million.

8. "WALL-E," $4.7 million.

9. "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," $3.4 million.

10. "Space Chimps," $2.8 million.


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