In Light of 'Dark Knight' Tragedy, Movie Marketers Face Questions

Warner Bros., Cinema Marketers Try to Figure Out Appropriate Responses

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What was expected to be the blockbuster movie of the summer is now marked by tragedy after a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater in Colorado during the opening night of "Dark Knight Rises," killing a dozen and injuring nearly 50 others. The human toll and violence of the act raises questions not only for the studio backing the movie but also a host of other entities associating themselves with the movie or its central character this weekend.

"Dark Knight Rises," the final installment in director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, had been pegged to set new opening weekend records. Warner Bros. has already cancelled the film's Paris red carpet premiere, as well as interviews with Mr. Nolan and the cast. The Wrap reported Warner Bros. is also considering scrapping screenings across the country.

The Time Warner -owned studio issued a statement this morning: "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."

A fear of copycat incidents has resulted in the New York Police Department and Washington, D.C, police beefing up security at movie theaters around the tri-state area this weekend, and has left movie theaters wondering whether to address security concerns.

Regal Entertainment, which runs 519 movie theaters around the country said: "We are profoundly saddened by the tragedy that occurred at a Denver area theatre and are concerned for the victims and their families. The security and safety of our guests and staff is always our number one priority. As is our custom, we will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our security needs as necessary. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families."

President Barack Obama and Candidate Mitt Romney have also pulled negative campaign ads in Colorado markets and campaign events for Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama have been canceled.

"Dark Knight Rises" could bring in as much as $190 million in the U.S. this weekend, according to a research note from Wells Fargo media analyst Marci Ryvicker, which was issued before the shooting occurred. "The Avengers," featuring super-heroes from Disney-owned Marvel, currently holds the record for biggest debut; it brought in $207.4 million in its opening weekend earlier this year. Ms. Ryvicker said in her note that "Dark Knight Rises" could gross more than $500 million over a six-week run.

While the human tragedy is the first concern, it remains to be seen how it will affect ticket sales of the movie. Will fear, respect for those hurt or a sense of foreboding keep viewers from theaters or prompt them to wait until "Dark Knight Rises" is released on DVD, Netflix or video-on-demand?

In light of the "Dark Knight Rises" shooting, Warner Bros. has pulled the trailer for another movie, "Gangster Squad," which features a scene of gangsters aimlessly firing guns in a movie theater.

It's not wholly unusual for movie marketers to change upcoming marketing plans or even key elements to a movie in response to current events. Earlier this year, Fox changed the name of one of its summer releases to "The Watch" from "Neighborhood Watch" after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida earlier this year by a neighborhood watch captain.

And, in fact, this isn't the first time Warner Bros. has faced a marketing conundrum around its Batman franchise. In 2008 it had to market "Batman: The Dark Knight " without its star, Heath Ledger, who died the January prior.

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