New Batman film breaks movie opening record

LONDON - The latest instalment in the revived Batman franchise, starring the late Heath Ledger, has smashed box office records with $155.3m (£77.7m) in its first two days of release in the US.

'The Dark Knight' broke the previous record of $151.1m, which was set in May 2007 by Sony's 'Spider-Man 3'.

It also gave studio Warner Brothers its best ever weekend opening and dominated the weekend, outperforming Universal's 'Mamma Mia', which generated $27.6m.

Approximately $18m of 'The Dark Knight''s first day gross came from record midnight screenings, setting another record.

The studio is expecting the film to have generated more than $200m in box office receipts by the end of the week.

Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros, said: "We knew it would be big, but we never expected to dominate the marketplace."

The record opening means that Warner Bros will easily recoup its outlay on the movie, which cost an estimated $180m before print and marketing costs.

It has also vindicated decisions by Lamborghini and Nokia to pay for product placement in the movie."

The film was always expected to do well at the box office because 'Batman Begins', the Christopher Nolan-directed film that relaunched the franchise in 2005, was a critical and box office success, giving 'The Dark Knight' a ready-made audience that was eager for another instalment.

However, the sequel has surpassed box office expectations, even allowing for the extra buzz created by an innovative online marketing campaign that began last year and additional interest surrounding the death of one of its stars.

Ledger, the highly rated Australian actor who plays The Joker in the movie, died of a drugs overdose in January while 'The Dark Knight' was in post-production.

Critics are hailing his performance in 'The Dark Knight' as extraordinary and there is already talk of a posthumous Oscar nomination.

The film is expected to do repeat its success in the US at the UK box office when it opens nationwide this Thursday.

Gemma Atkinson, sales director of cinema sales house Carlton Screen Advertising, said: "The opening success of 'The Dark Knight' in the US has been phenomenal. The buzz has also been mounting here, with the Imax cinema showing the film throughout the night this opening weekend. Needless to say, we are expecting it to do very well."

'The Dark Knight' was directed by Nolan and stars Christian Bale, who reprises his role as Batman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

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