You’re probably really going to love The Dark Knight, but what Hollywood will be pondering in the next few days running up to the movie’s release is just exactly how many of your friends they've convinced to see it. Right now, hype for this thing is quite obviously, completely out of control. Yesterday morning at the press screening I attended for the film, people denied entry were on the verge of violence, and only the threat of police interference got the irate trouble makers off the premises before they could do serious property damage. Outside the theater teenagers lurked, and plotted to find a way to sneak in past Warner Brothers’ numerous security guards. Inside, those who were on the carefully monitored press list looked around nervously, ready to bitchslap anyone who got between them and their theater seat. People aren’t just eager to see this thing, they’re desperate to see it, and even the mere suggestion that they might not see it when they want to how they want to sends some into half-crazed contortions.

Warner Brothers is, perhaps rather wisely, trying to keep their expectations reasonable. Right now various sources say they’re only expecting to make $100 million in the movie’s first three days. That’s a huge number, but it may also be incredibly pessimistic. Most other box office bigwigs though, are predicting something in the $130 - $135 million range for Dark Knight’s opening weekend. Just to put that in perspective, if TDK makes $135 million then that would tie it with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest for the second biggest opening weekend of all time, behind only Spider-Man 3.

Personally, I still think that’s low. I know the hype over Pirates and Spidey was pretty serious, but I’ve never, not in the 5 years I’ve been doing this job somewhat seriously, seen excitement over any movie even approaching what’s going on out there with The Dark Knight. Spider-Man 3? Please. Why not $160 million for The Dark Knight? They’re showing the movie nonstop. For it’s first 24 hours out in the ether, theaters will not be closing, using every available second to fit in more and more TDK showings on multiple screens. That’s unprecedented. How many times can theaters actually show this thing? To me, that’s the only real limit on how much money TDK is going to make next weekend. Otherwise, sky is the limit. $200 million? Why not. Bring it on.

Assume each screen has 8 showings a day (which is about the most they could possibly fit in, showing 24 hours a day), and it’s opening in 4300 theaters. That’s 34,400 TDK showings just in the first 24 hours. Figure an average of 200 seats per theater, $10 per ticket, and that’s a possible $68.8 million earned in just the first 24 hours and a possible $204 million in 3 days. Could every single showing in the country sell out? Probably not, but if any movie is ever going to come close to doing it, then this little Batman movie’s got the juice. For moviegoers, nothing else out there matters to anyone until after the world has sat down with a big bucket of popcorn and seen it.

When I submit my guess to the CB forum’s Bowling For Box Office Game this week, I’ll probably got for something around $165 million. What’s your estimate? How big is this thing going to be? How many people are you dragging to see it? Get your tickets now, they may all be gone by morning.

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