Box office preview: How will 'The Dark Knight Rises' hold up in its second weekend?

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Last weekend, a dark cloud hung over the box office after the tragedy in Aurora, Colo. rocked the country.

The Dark Knight Rises still managed a stunning $160.9 million opening weekend — the third best of all time — but most believe it could have finished with substantially more money had audiences not been avoiding the theater.

There’s definitely still some tension in the air this frame, but movie going is expected to return at least somewhat back to normal. Two new openers are hitting theaters — sci-fi comedy The Watch and dance sequel Step Up Revolution — but they won’t be any match for the second weekend of The Dark Knight Rises. Here’s how the box office may play out:

Once again, The Dark Knight Rises will top the chart. The question is how hard it will fall in its sophomore frame. In 2008, The Dark Knight dropped 53 percent to $75.2 million in its second weekend, but Rises will be lucky to earn a similar drop. After six days in theaters, Rises is lagging behind The Dark Knight ($211.8 million vs. $222.2 million) despite a stronger start.

On its first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, The Dark Knight earned $24.5 million, $20.9 million, and $18.4 million, respectively. Rises, meanwhile, earned $19.4 million, $17.8 million, and $13.8 million. I see four possible reasons for this slighter performance:

  1. The shooting still has moviegoers wary to attend the theater — especially for The Dark Knight Rises.
  2. The Dark Knight Rises, while well-received, is not earning the same amount of feverishly strong word-of-mouth that propelled The Dark Knight into the box office stratosphere.
  3. The Dark Knight Rises is playing like a typical sequel. They open bigger (in this case, only slightly bigger), but then fall much more quickly due to up-front fan excitement.
  4. Hollywood collectively underestimated just how big of a box office bump Heath Ledger’s death gave The Dark Knight. That film’s numbers were misleadingly inflated, and The Dark Knight Rises was never destined to be a bigger box office powerhouse.

Whatever the reason, Rises doesn’t seem to be holding up quite as strong as The Dark Knight. Thus, I’m thinking a drop in the 60 percent range is in store for Warner Brothers’ $250 million Batman sequel. The Dark Knight Rises may gross $65 million over the Friday to Sunday period, which would lift its total right around $290 million.

Fox’s comedy The Watch, which once looked like a surefire hit, will likely invade second place with much less business than most prognosticators would have guessed six months ago. The film, which stars Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn, and Richard Ayoade, tells the story of a volunteer police squad who seek to protect their neighborhood, but end up fighting off an alien invasion.

The film, which was made for $68 million, has faced numerous marketing challenges due to controversial news events. Originally titled Neighborhood Watch, it got a modified title after the February shooting of Trayvon Martin by Florida resident George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watch officer. Fox was forced to play up the alien angle of the film instead of the regular-guys-shooting-guns storyline. The studio had largely kept any images of alien invasion out of their advertising after John Carter and Battleship’s back-to-back flops, which had studios hesitant to associate themselves with intergalactic creatures.

Despite the new tack, The Watch never fully shook the association with the Trayvon Martin scandal, and the Aurora shootings haven’t helped in that department. Whether many regular moviegoers actually make these connections is unlikely. Still, these factors have consistently affected The Watch‘s marketing campaign, and as a result, it’s been difficult for Fox to clearly communicate the story. Despite poor reviews, the movie features a three high-profile comedians in a year that’s been kind to broad comedies. Playing in 3,168 theaters, The Watch may gross $22 million.

The other new release is Step Up Revolution, the fourth installment of the popular dance franchise, which recently shifted from Disney to Summit. The $33 million sequel comes two years after Step Up 3D, which earned $42.4 million, substantially less than its predecessor, Step Up 2 The Streets, which grossed $$58 million.

The diminishing returns may continue for Revolution, as the franchise seems to be teetering dangerously close to the quality level of long-running direct-to-video spinoff series like Bring It On and American Pie. Popping and locking into 2,567 theaters, Revolution could finish in the same range as 2004 dance flick You Got Served, which started with $16 million. Step Up has the benefit of 3-D screens, but those are only major box office boons for blockbusters these days. (If only the series still starred Channing Tatum!) It may earn about $13 million this weekend — but the real money will come internationally. Step Up 3D grossed $161 million worldwide.

Rounding out the Top 5 will be Ice Age Continental Drift, which may earn about $13 million in its third weekend, and then either Ted or The Amazing Spider-Man, both of which should finish with about $6.5 million.

1. The Dark Knight Rises – $65 million
2. The Watch – $22 million
3. Step Up Revolution – $13 million
4. Ice Age: Continental Drift – $13 million
5. The Amazing Spider-Man – $6.5 million

Check back all weekend to see how The Dark Knight Rises, The Watch, and Step Up fare at the box office. If you want up-to-the-minute box office updates, follow me on Twitter.

More on EW.com:
Box office report: ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ debuts with $160.9 million
Christian Bale visits hospitalized victims of Colorado shooting
Warner Bros. set to make charitable contribution to Colo. shooting victims

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