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The Dark Knight’ Changed Cinema Forever
In 2008, “The Dark Knight” was released, breaking records and cementing its place in cinematic history. It’s hard to overstate just how influential Christopher Nolan’s superhero trilogy has become.
Recently, alongside the celebration of Batman Day, Warner Bros. treated fans to a limited re-release of “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” While this was a very limited re-release, disappointing those who wanted to experience the films in IMAX, it was a great way to revisit these movies and set the stage for the demand for premium screens and all the things that came after.
Before 2008, watching IMAX films was a special format primarily found in museums, mainly for nature/science documentaries. If a feature film was shown in IMAX, it wasn’t very accessible to most people.
Nolan shot scenes with IMAX cameras that filled the giant screen during the film’s prestigious set pieces, making it the first motion picture to do so. When the film was released, it played in only 94 locations worldwide in a premium format. It was more expensive than a regular ticket, but it earned $65 million from those limited locations, making it worthwhile for many.
The success of “The Dark Knight” with IMAX reignited enthusiasm for the format. Filmmakers wanted to use it, and IMAX expanded its presence worldwide.
A year later, James Cameron’s “Avatar” lit up the world, not only because of 3D but also because of IMAX. “Avatar” still holds the record for the highest-grossing IMAX tickets sold, earning over $200 million worldwide from IMAX screens.
The initial success of “The Dark Knight” with IMAX allowed for the expansion of premium formats, which helped “Avatar” reach new heights. Since then, competing formats like Dolby, 4DX, ScreenX, RPX, and others have emerged, promising a more immersive experience than the average screen.
By 2023, with rapid advancements, and Nolan’s continued commitment to IMAX dominance, almost every major format screen had played “Openheimer” by the end of the week, many in 70mm, and some fully in September. The release of “Openheimer” with Barbenheimer’s Fever effectively ended box office aspirations for many summer films.
Tom Cruise famously tried to boost his latest “Mission: Impossible” film with premium screen runs, but Nolan’s IMAX screens won out, and if one premium screen wasn’t playing “Openheimer,” it was playing “Barbie.”
“Openheimer” has now surpassed $900 million, with an eye-popping $1 billion within reach, making it the fifth highest-grossing IMAX film to date. Christopher Nolan’s and IMAX’s power have fueled these numbers, and a three-hour, R-rated biopic filled with madness is doing the trick.
Consumer hunger for premium screens and studios’ willingness to schedule them at the highest level possible remains strong. The future of theatrical films is uncertain post-pandemic, but the demand for experiencing the latest major releases on the biggest and tallest screen will persist. Who knows if “The Dark Knight” re-release experiment didn’t work, demand may have continued or not.