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Box Office Goes Batty: But Will "The Dark Knight" Be the Big Winner for the Summer and the Year?

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The Dark Knight shattered records over the weekend. The second installment in director Christopher Nolan's Batman series grossed $158.3 million, which flew past Spider-Man 3, the previous (and undeserved) gold standard with $151.1 million. The Dark Knight also hit the sales record books for single-day ($66.4 million), midnight screening ($18.5 million) and IMAX debut ($6.2 million). I couldn't be happier. It's satisfying when a comic-book movie this compelling and complex touches a universal chord. Success, as always, also inspires mucho bitching. Parents fear that the PG-13 film is too dark for their little ones (duh?) and what with brutal scenes like the pencil in the forehead they wonder if it's really not a popcorn movie for the whole family (double duh?). And then there are questions actually worth the asking, such as:

Can The Dark Knight sustain its opening and go on to be the hit of the summer and the year? The top contenders so far are May openers, Iron Man and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which are both well past the $300 million mark. But hitting $400 million is harder these days when blockbusters open big and then fade quickly. For example, Spider-Man 3 raked in nearly half of its $336.5 million in total sales on its debut weekend. A sleeper such as WALL-e, a supreme example of Pixar animation skill, hasn't hit $200 million yet, but it's hanging in there week after week.

Does The Dark Knight deserve to wear the 2008 box-office crown? Most critics, including me, have praised the film. Now that you've had a chance to see it, what are your thoughts? How does Batman shape up against WALL-e and Iron Man (you can't be serious about Indy 4)?

What about the Heath Ledger factor? His performance as the Joker is award caliber. But would The Dark Knight have so stirred your interest or grossed nearly as much if Ledger had been alive at the time of its release? A macabre question, but a valid one.

What's the image from The Dark Knight you can't forget? For me, it's the Joker being interrogated and beaten at the police station. Ledger's eyes offer a mirror into a tortured soul.

Final Question: How high will the Bat fly? What will be the final gross The Dark Knight when it finally ends its run at the multiplex?

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Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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