`Thunder' rumbles past `Dark Knight' with $26M

LOS ANGELES (AP) - August 17, 2008 The DreamWorks-Paramount comedy "Tropic Thunder" - with Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Black and Tom Cruise - debuted at No. 1 with $26 million, bumping "The Dark Knight" to second place after four weekends on top, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The Warner Bros. Batman flick pulled in $16.8 million to raise its total to $471.5 million. "The Dark Knight" passed the original "Star Wars" ($461 million) and now stands as No. 2 on the all-time domestic charts, behind only "Titanic" ($600.8 million).

Taking inflation into account, "The Dark Knight" trails both movies in actual tickets sold, however. "The Dark Knight" would need to gross about $900 million to match the number of admissions for "Titanic" and about $1.2 billion to equal "Star Wars."

Warner Bros. expects "The Dark Knight" to top out at about $530 million domestically, said Dan Fellman, the studio's head of distribution.

"The Dark Knight" managed to fend off another "Star Wars" movie this weekend. The animated tale "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," also released by Warner Bros., opened at No. 3 with $15.5 million.

Families made up two-thirds of the audience for "Clone Wars," Fellman said. "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, who has an executive producer credit on "Clone Wars," intended the movie as an introduction to his "Clone Wars" TV show debuting this fall on the Cartoon Network.

"It was targeted to a specific audience for specific reasons," Fellman said. "We accomplished that mission, and it will continue in another medium."

"Tropic Thunder" was the third R-rated comedy to open solidly in recent weeks, following "Pineapple Express" and "Step Brothers." Most summer comedies are rated PG-13, since an R rating limits the audience by requiring anyone younger than 17 to come with an adult.

R-rated comedy hits tend to open in the $20 million to $30 million range, lower than their PG-13 counterparts, but often have a longer shelf life in theaters as audiences spread the word. R-rated movies such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" all opened around those levels and went on to become $100 million hits.

"We're thrilled, quite frankly. It played out exactly how we hoped," said DreamWorks spokesman Chip Sullivan.

Stiller directed and co-wrote "Tropic Thunder," in which he stars with Downey and Black as pampered actors who find themselves in a real combat situation while shooting a Vietnam War epic in the Asian jungles. Cruise co-stars as a bald, egomaniacal studio boss.

"Tropic Thunder" raised its total to $37 million since opening Wednesday.

The 20th Century Fox horror tale "Mirrors," starring Kiefer Sutherland as a security guard whose family is terrorized by spirits, opened at No. 4 with $11.1 million.

Woody Allen returned to commercial form with his Spanish romance "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," which opened at No. 10 with $3.7 million.

The movie played in narrower release, 692 theaters compared with 3,000-plus for "Tropic Thunder" and "Clone Wars." Still, it opened far wider than most Allen films, which usually start in a handful of theaters and gradually expand.

"You never can predict how something's going to do, but we felt that the movie is so strong, we just needed to get it out there," said Harvey Weinstein, whose Weinstein Co. released the movie under its distribution agreement with MGM. "The audience reaction is terrific."

Summit Entertainment's "Fly Me to the Moon," a 3-D animated tale about three flies that tag along on the Apollo 11 moon landing, debuted in 452 theaters and took in $2 million, finishing at No. 12.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Tropic Thunder," $26 million 2. "The Dark Knight," $16.8 million 3. "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," $15.5 million 4. "Mirrors," $11.1 million 5. "Pineapple Express," $10 million 6. "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," $8.6 million 7. "Mamma Mia!", $6.5 million 8. "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2," $5.9 million 9. "Step Brothers," $5 million 10. "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," $3.7 million.

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