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Box Office Preview: Big days for 'Dark Knight'

Christian Bale’s latest Batman movie should easily beat fellow newcomers ”Mamma Mia!” and ”Space Chimps” — but how big will it be?

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Everybody knows that the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight, opens this weekend. And everybody knows that, in this great summer of comic-book fare, it’s gonna be big. Like big big. Like, Pirates of the Caribbean big. But did you know that there are two other films debuting alongside Christian Bale‘s caped crusader? No kidding: The musical Mamma Mia! and the animated kiddie flick Space Chimps are also hitting theaters. And if all that weren’t enough, Hellboy II, Hancock, and Journey to the Center of the Earth are still going strong.

Busy times! So busy, in fact, that more money could be spent on going to the movies this weekend than on any other weekend in history. I’ll try to make sense of it all with my picks below; you can register your own rankings in EW.com’s Summer Box Office Challenge. And let’s agree to meet back here on Sunday to see how we did, eh?

The Dark Knight
Warner Bros. · PG-13 · 4,366 theaters · NEW
It’s hard to write about Heath Ledger’s death in the context of box office and not sound like I’m trivializing the tragedy of his passing; I don’t mean to. That said, there’s no doubt that the off-camera circumstances surrounding this sequel to Christopher Nolan’s terrific 2005 franchise reboot, Batman Begins, will lure many viewers who are eager to see what Ledger’s possibly final performance looks like (and whether his work as the Joker lives up to its pre-release Oscar hype). Even still, The Dark Knight was always going to be a huge hit. It is the seventh live-action installment (don’t forget Adam West’s 1966 Batman flick, folks!) in one of the biggest franchises in movie history, and it follows a hugely successful 2005 film that grossed $205.3 mil domestically and drew all sorts of critical coos. It, too, is drawing raves from reviewers, and its star, Christian Bale, has one of the most devoted fan bases in the business. And, oh! I almost forgot: It’s bowing in more theaters than any other movie in history (breaking Pirates 3‘s record of 4,362 venues). So how big will The Dark Knight‘s opening be? Certainly larger than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘s $100.1 mil three-day bow (the year’s biggest so far). I’d argue that the anticipation, buzz, and present-day relevance of this film (also starring Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal) is bigger than that of Indy 4 — and, hey, the fact that it’s playing on scores of IMAX screens (which charge more for tickets) helps even more.
Weekend prediction: $128 million

Mamma Mia!
Universal · PG-13 · 2,976 theaters · NEW
Counterprogramming! It’s obvious that that’s what the folks behind this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical (about a wedding holiday where everybody breaks out singing ABBA ditties) were thinking. It’s so easy: Here we have a movie meant for the ladies, so it’s a perfect foe for the boy-baiting Batman. Simple, right? Weeeeeellllll…I’m not convinced. The movie has done bang-up business overseas, where it opened last week. But while stars Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan are proven box office draws, their core fans tend to be folks who won’t necessarily rush out to see a film on opening weekend — in part because they have to stay home to fill out their AARP membership applications. The other thing keeping Mamma Mia! from matching the $27.5 mil premieres of both Hairspray and The Devil Wears Prada: The counterprogramming plan is all well and good, but with The Dark Knight earning $128 mil this weekend, how many people will be left to see this film?
Weekend prediction: $23 million

Hancock
Columbia · PG-13 · 3,776 theaters · 3rd weekend
He’s hardly the new superhero on the block, but Will Smith continues to show strength at the box office. His flick has brought in more than $175 mil, and it even beat upstart Hellboy II every day during this week.
Weekend prediction: $16 million

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Universal · PG-13 · 3,212 theaters · 2nd weekend
Though an impressive No. 1 finisher last time around, Guillermo del Toro‘s comic-fantasy sequel stands to be the biggest victim of Batman’s entrance into the marketplace, especially if those semi-soft mid-week numbers are any indication.
Weekend prediction: $14 million

Journey to the Center of the Earth
New Line · PG · 2,830 theaters · 2nd weekend
For the second consecutive week, I’m predicting that Brendan Fraser’s 3-D update of Jules Verne’s classic story will earn $10 mil. This time, however, I should be correct.
Weekend prediction: $10 million

THE OTHER NEW RELEASE

Space Chimps
Fox · G · 2,511 theaters · NEW
Why write about it? Anybody interested in this critically slammed animated movie about astronaut apes isn’t old enough to read.
Weekend prediction: $6 million