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"The Dark Knight": Just How Big A Movie Will It Be?

"The Dark Knight" is going to be huge--some estimates put its weekend U.S. box office at $130 million, which would make it the third-biggest movie opening ever.

This latest Batman sequel swept into 3,000 theaters Thursday night at midnight, with screenings going into the wee hours of the morning.

This weekend the Warner Bros. flick will be in over 4,300 screens in North America, a record. There's no question "The Dark Knight will be huge."

Reviews have been rave, and I can attest, it lives up to the hype. And sad as it is to say it, the untimely death of Heath Ledger, who plays the Joker brilliantly, has only generated more intrigue around the film. And advance ticket sales are unprecedented. Over 700 showings over the weekend are already

But Warner Bros. and DC Comics, owned by Time Warner aren't the only companies cashing in. The Dark Knight is a business phenomenon, generating billions of dollars across industries. Fitting for a character whose abilities and drive comes from the fact that he's a billionaire -- or at least that's what Christian Bale told me about his character's motivation an interview we did a few weeks back.

Imax is getting a lot of exposure through the film. Director Christopher Nolan shot many of the action sequences on an IMAX camera, and now the film is being shown in 94 Imax venues. Fans seem to get the benefit of seeing the film in Imax. This weekend every showing in New York and Los Angeles in an Imax theater is already sold out, with a total of $3.5 million spent on presale Imax tickets.

Mattel has the license to sell toys related to "The Dark Knight." The benefit of Batman toys is that they're hot sellers not just with kids, but also with adult collectors. Wedbusy Morgan Securities analyst Chris White, says Batman toys might have helped Mattel's quarterly results in its second quarter, even before the film came out.

Comcast is teaming up with Warner Bros. to offer exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, trailers, and mini movies on demand. The six mini movies are original content episodes of "Gotham Tonight", with the movie's actors commenting, in character, on a news-style program. This bolsters Comcast's on-demand HD offerings, part of the company's "Project Infinity."

Verizon Wireless and Nokia are teaming up to create the Nokia6205 The Dark Knight Edition. This batphone targets superfans, with bat wallpaper, voice tones, screensavers, and the film's trailer pre-loaded. Who knows how many of the phones will sell, but the Verizon-Dark Knight ads certainly catch my attention.

I predict this will be the biggest movie in the U.S. this year so far. I could be wrong, but it's got a lot of factors working in its favor. And I think it touches on the thing that scares Americans the most these days: not a distinct enemy, but the fear of chaos and people choosing not to subscribe to the social contract. We'll see how it fares this weekend.

UPDATE: "The Dark Knight" was bound to be huge - but it's even bigger than we could have expected. Warner Bros. Batman sequel broke records, becoming the largest 12:01 film opening ever, bringing in a $18,489,000 at the box office. And that's *just* the 12:01 screenings, that doesn't include all those 3 am and 6 am showings that were sold out. This beat out the $16.9 million record for that 12:01 debut, set by "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" in May 2005, and the previous record held by "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

At this rate The Dark Knight should finish the 3-day weekend with at least $135 million, which would make it the second highest-grossing box office ever. Even in a tough economy, good movies prove the box office to be recession proof.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.