Warner Bros. is canceling some television advertising for “The Dark Knight Rises” following the shooting yesterday that killed at least 12 people in Aurora, Colorado, two people with knowledge of the matter said.
Two versions of the commercials for the picture were pulled entirely, said one of the people, who sought anonymity because the decision isn’t public.
Time Warner Inc. (TWX:US)’s film studio also cut back on promotional events, responding to the tragedy during opening weekend of one of the year’s biggest pictures. Some ads have elements that may remind audiences of the shooting. The movie’s villain, Bane, for example, has his face covered by a mask in ads, similar to the gas mask worn by the shooter.
“There may be some link -- it’s cautious, it’s appropriate for Warner Bros. to act in this way,” said Yong Liu, associate professor of marketing at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He said he expects ticket sales to be affected. “Not only sales, but emotions of audiences that watch the movie. That’s a big tragedy. It will have some influence.”
Television ads show a masked Bane declaring his plan to “liberate” Gotham City and explosions that destroy a football stadium. Bane is also seen confronting Batman on the streets of Gotham.
Warner Bros. spent an estimated $250 million on the production, according to researcher Internet Movie Database.
The picture, which opened yesterday, marks the third and final Batman pairing of actor Christian Bale with director Christopher Nolan. Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan, in a favorable review, called it “the bleakest, most despairing superhero film ever made.”
Shares of major theater chains fell. Cinemark Holdings Inc. (CNK:US), the Plano, Texas-based owner of the theater in Aurora, dropped 4.6 percent to $23.15 yesterday in New York, the most since August 2011. It has risen 25 percent this year. Regal Entertainment Group (RGC:US), the largest U.S. theater operator, fell 4.4 percent to $13.35 and Carmike Cinemas Inc. (CKEC:US) lost 2.3 percent to $14.48. Imax Corp. (IMAX:US), operator of large-screen cinemas, fell 1.6 percent to $24.02.
Regal, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, said it would adjust security as necessary, including curbs on costumes. Carmike, based in Columbus, Georgia, said it already employs uniformed and plainclothes police officers for security.
AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (AMC:US), the second-largest chain, said it is reinforcing security, without providing details. The Kansas City, Missouri-based exhibitor also said it is banning costumes, masks or fake weapons inside its buildings.
The shooting hadn’t affected sales as of yesterday morning, according to Terrell Mayton, a Carmike spokesman.
“We’re selling tickets right now,” Mayton said in an interview. “People want to see this movie and they want to go to their theater.”
Arclight Cinemas, a closely held theater chain in Los Angeles, offered refunds to patrons who bought tickets in advance and will take up a collection for the victims at screenings, according to the company.
Before the shooting, forecasters had estimated that “The Dark Knight Rises” would collect as much as $198 million at the box office its opening weekend.
The picture took in $30.6 million in midnight showings in the U.S., according to Hollywood.com Box-Office. The total marked the second-biggest midnight tally behind the final “Harry Potter” movie, which generated $43.5 million.
“A lot of parents will re-evaluate whether they send their children to a theater,” said Eric Wold, an analyst with B. Riley & Co. in San Francisco. “Not just this movie, any movie.”
The studio halted plans for the red-carpet premiere in France. Interviews with Nolan and stars Bale and Anne Hathaway were called off, according to a statement from New York-based Time Warner. Warner Bros. also scrapped plans for events in Tokyo and Mexico City, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Warner Bros. doesn’t plan to pull “Dark Knight” from any of the 4,404 screens currently showing Batman, said Jessica Zacholl, a spokeswoman. The studio did take down previews for the September film “Gangster Squad,” featuring Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling, which included a scene showing characters firing guns in a movie theater.
The trailer didn’t run before the Batman screening where the shooting occurred, Zacholl said.
Warner Bros. said late yesterday it won’t release ticket- sales figures for the movie as usual over the weekend, citing sensitivity to the victims.
“Out of respect for the victims and their families, Warner Bros. Pictures will not be reporting box office numbers for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ throughout the weekend,” Warner Bros. said. “Box office numbers will be released on Monday.”
The studio isn’t reducing its sales estimate, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans who asked not to be named because the matter is sensitive. Most weekend screenings in major metropolitan areas have been sold out through pre- orders, the person said.
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said the department would deploy officers to showings of the film in the five boroughs as a precaution against copycats and to ensure public safety. The Los Angeles Police Department was also increasing patrols around theaters and other venues, according to Detective Gus Villanueva.
The shooting may slow attendance over the weekend, though strong advance sales may mitigate that somewhat, Jeff Bock, senior analyst with the research firm Exhibitor Relations Co., said in an e-mail.
“Since this is an unprecedented event, I’m not sure anyone really knows how much this will affect box-office grosses this weekend,” Bock said.
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