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'Dark Knight' Overshadows Box Office Rivals Again

Batman buried his rivals at the North American box office for a second weekend on Sunday, racing past $300 million in a record 10 days.

The Caped Crusader's blockbuster outing, "The Dark Knight," sold an estimated $75.6 million worth of tickets during the three days beginning Friday, taking its total to $314.2 million, distributor Warner Bros. Pictures said.

A week after it scored a record-breaking $158 million opening, "The Dark Knight" added a new title to its impressive list of superlatives: the best second weekend, surpassing the holiday-boosted $72 million haul of 2004's "Shrek 2."

The $180 million movie, which stars Christian Bale as Batman and late actor Heath Ledger as the anarchic Joker, has reportedly been drawing strong repeat business, and also has piqued the interest of people who avoid superhero flicks or rarely go to the movies at all.

"The Dark Knight" now ranks as the second-biggest movie of the year, just behind the $315 million haul of "Iron Man," and the 23rd-biggest of all time.

The previous speed record for a $300 million film was 16 days set by "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" in 2006. The next target is $400 million, which took "Shrek 2" 43 days to reach. Warner Bros. distribution president Dan Fellman predicted "The Dark Knight" would take just 18 days to reach that milestone.

"Where we go from there, it's uncharted waters," Fellman said.

The last movie to break $400 million was the 2006 "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, which ranks No. 6 on the all-time list with $423 million. The 1997 epic "Titanic" leads the field with $601 million.

"Step Brothers" Strong

Elsewhere, the Columbia Pictures comedy "Step Brothers," starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as perpetual adolescents, opened surprisingly strongly at No. 2 with $30 million. The 20th Century Fox sci-fi sequel "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" came in at No. 4 with $10.2 million, a figure at the lower end of expectations.

In between, Universal Pictures' ABBA-inspired musical romance "Mamma Mia!" slipped one place to No. 3 with $17.8 million while its 10-day total rose to $62.7 million.

"Step Brothers" represents a strong rebound for Ferrell and Reilly, following their recent respective bombs "Semi-Pro" and "Walk Hard." The actors, along with director Adam McKay, previously worked together in the hit 2006 comedy "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby."

Industry pundits had forecast a $25 million opening for the $65 million film, which received mixed reviews from critics. Ferrell and Reilly's emotionally stunted characters are forced to live together when their single parents marry. Two-thirds of the male-skewing audience was aged under 25, Columbia said.

"The X-Files: I Want to Believe" also marks a reunion, this time between former FBI agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson). But it failed to spark much enthusiasm among fans or critics. Fox said it had targeted an opening in the $10 million to $15 million range.

"We made it for the fans and they have come out," said Chris Aronson, senior VP of distribution at the News Corp-owned studio.

The sci-fi mystery comes to screens six years after the underlying TV series "The X-Files" ended its run, and a decade after the first big-screen spinoff. That film, also called "The X-Files" opened to $30 million on its way to $84 million domestically.

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The $30 million sequel marks the third consecutive disappointment in as many weeks for Fox, following the Eddie Murphy comedy "Meet Dave" and then the animated "Space Chimps." The studio, noted for keeping costs down and sharing the risk with outside partners, has had a quiet year highlighted by the early-spring release "Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who," which grossed $154 million domestically. Next up is the Aug. 15 horror film "Mirrors" starring Kiefer
Sutherland.

Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner. Columbia Pictures is a unit of Sony while Universal Pictures is a unit of General Electric.

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