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Shootings cast pall over 'Dark Knight Rises' blockbuster weekend

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
July 20, 2012 -- Updated 2007 GMT (0407 HKT)
Fans wait outside for
Fans wait outside for "The Dark Knight Rises" midnight premiere in New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "The Dark Knight Rises" was one of the most eagerly awaited summer blockbusters
  • Experts say it's too soon to tell if Friday's attack will keep fans away
  • Studio pulls trailer showing men attacking movie theater with machine guns

(CNN) -- The early Friday release of "The Dark Knight Rises" was one of the most eagerly anticipated movie events of the summer.

On Thursday, movie ticket seller Fandango reported that the last installment in the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman trilogy was "outpacing summer blockbuster 'The Avengers' in ticket sales at the same point in the sales cycle."

"The final chapter of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy has sold out on Fandango more than 2,000 showtimes nationwide and it's currently on track to become one of Fandango's top-selling movies of all time," the ticket seller reported.

An attack by an armed gunman in Aurora, Colorado, at a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" was met with shock and grief throughout the country, and cast a shadow over what for fans was set to be a blockbuster weekend.

Gunman kills 12 in Colorado movie theater

The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre The public gets its first glimpse of James Holmes, 24, the suspect in the Colorado theater shooting during his initial court appearance Monday, July 23. With his hair dyed reddish-orange, Holmes, here with public defender Tamara Brady, showed little emotion. He is accused of opening fire in a movie theater Friday, July 20, in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others. More photos: Mourning the victims of the Colorado theater massacre
Colorado movie theater shooting
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Experts said it's difficult to determine what, if any, effect the tragedy may have on either ticket sales or fan turnout in the days and weeks to come.

"For somebody to go into a movie theater, a place of fun and escapism, and bring that kind of violence into that world is shocking and tragic," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com. "How this will affect the movie, I just don't know."

Shooting turns movie into surreal horror

According to Exhibitor Relations, the film did brisk business for its midnight screenings, raking in $30.6 million. Many fans had pre-purchased tickets for screenings across the country.

Dergarabedian said the current focus has been rightfully on those injured and killed because of the violence. Beyond that it is up to Warner Bros., the studio that released the film, to decide how to proceed with marketing in the wake of the tragedy, he said.

Theater shooting unfolds in real time on social media

Warner Bros., which is owned by the parent company of CNN, has been heavily marketing the action film that includes scenes featuring lots of gunplay and violence.

A full-page newspaper ad heralding the opening weekend contains a pull quote from Marlow Stern, assistant culture editor of Newsweek, which says, "A monumental conclusion to the epic trilogy. Audiences will be blown away."

Warner Bros. pulled the trailer for the film "Gangster Squad," which had been running before showings of "The Dark Knight Rises." That film trailer features scenes of men armed with machine guns attacking a movie theater. A representative for the company told CNN that Warner Bros. did not plan to cancel any screenings.

Thelma Adams, contributing editor for Yahoo Movies, said the tragedy poses a conundrum for the studio.

"I know people at Warner Bros. who were called and woken up this morning who now have a huge problem on their hands," she said. "I think in the long run, a lot of the money is made globally with a movie like this and that will not have an impact."

Theater offers 'perfect killing' zone, expert says

Adams continued, "Also it's not just an opening weekend movie. There (are) no other movies kind of in competition this weekend as a lot of other movies stepped off this weekend and next weekend. Yes, there will be some impact of the revenue stream, but it's not going to really hurt."

Warner Bros. canceled the film's planned premiere in Paris on Friday and released the following statement: "Warner Bros. and the filmmakers are deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident. We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time."

An official with Paris police told CNN there was a police presence outside the Bristol Hotel, where cast members of "The Dark Knight Rises" were staying before the premiere, to "protect all those who could be threatened."

Actor Gary Oldman, who portrays Commissioner Jim Gordon in the film, said in a statement, "My prayers and deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families of this horrific act."

Scott Beggs, managing editor of the website Film School Rejects, said the film franchise has been popular because "at the heart of (the film) is a central heroic figure that gives hope to people."

In Aurora, the agonized seek answers

Beggs pointed out that the death of actor Heath Ledger from a toxic combination of prescription drugs in 2008 cast a bit of a pall over "The Dark Knight," but did not taint the legacy of what went on to become a critically acclaimed film. Ledger was posthumously awarded an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role as The Joker in that movie.

"(That second film) was touched by tragedy, but I believe the art ended up speaking for itself," Beggs said. "(The shootings in Colorado) were a tragic event that took place, which hopefully will not stop us from living our lives."

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