* Denver killings cast pall over big-budget movie and
* "Dark Knight Rises" starts well at box office, but can it
* Theaters tighten security, studio pulls back promotions
* Celebrities tweet sympathy, sorrow and in some cases,
(Adds canceled international appearances, paragraph 17)
By Bob Tourtellotte and Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES, July 20 Hollywood and its storied
Warner Bros. studio on Friday faced sharp scrutiny and the
prospect of seeing blockbuster "The Dark Knight Rises" sink at
box offices following a killing spree in Colorado that could
test fan appetite for violent films.
Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, saw its
big-budget film take in a near record $30.6 million in midnight
screenings on Friday, but ticket sales were overshadowed by the
shooting. As news spread through the day, the film's director,
Christopher Nolan, expressed his "profound sorrow" at the
rampage that took the lives of 12 people and injured 58 more.
While the studio did not cancel any of the movie's planned
screenings, it did stop many promotions and some TV networks
stopped running advertisements for the movie.
Theater owners and police from New York to Los Angeles
beefed up security to assure people that the movies - a place to
escape troubles and be entertained - were still safe.
The head of Cinemark Holdings, owner of the Century
16 movie theater where the shooting occurred in Aurora,
Colorado, went on TV to stress the safety of moviegoing.
Cinemark CEO Tim Warner called the shooting "a one-off tragedy."
"We play to 250 to 255 million people a year with very
little incidents. As so, the movie theaters are a very safe and
secure environment," Warner said on CNBC.
"The Dark Knight Rises," based on the exploits of
crime-fighting superhero Batman, is one of this year's major
movie releases. Some box-office watchers had believed its U.S.
and Canadian ticket sales could reach as high as $198 million
over this debut weekend, just shy of the $207 million opening
set by "The Avengers" earlier this year. The movie cost Warner
Bros. $250 million to produce and tens of millions more to
But at a midnight premiere in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, a
gunman wearing a gas mask and a bulletproof vest hurled a gas
canister inside the theater and opened fire on moviegoers.
"The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone
would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an
unbearably savage way is devastating to me," Nolan said in his
statement. "Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately
express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling
crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families."
Hollywood box-office watchers said it was too soon to know
exactly how ticket sales would be affected by the event because
the industry had never faced a situation like this one.
"It's too early to tell. This is a tragic and unprecedented
event," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office watcher for
Hollywood.com Box Office.
Others said the killings might do little to dampen turnout
for "Dark Knight Rises," the finale to a popular Batman saga.
"As horrible as this was, it is likely to affect 'The Dark'
at the edges and won't take away that many viewers," said Tony
Wible, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott, who follows
entertainment companies and theater chains. "There are only a
few people who won't come out to see a movie because of this."
Some industry experts, including former Columbia Pictures
marketing head Peter Sealey, said the studio should scale back
its promotion of the film, and with strong advance word-of-mouth
publicity, it might not even need to advertise in order to bring
in big numbers at the box office.
"Warner Brothers should show sensitivity and pull the ads
for a week, certainly in Denver, and maybe around the country,"
said former Columbia Pictures marketing head Peter Sealey.
Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com, said the impact
could go beyond just "The Dark Knight Rises" to all films in
theaters if people stay away, and it could extend well into the
future if the event lingers in people's minds.
Indeed, Hollywood and the movie industry have faced
real-life horrors before and shown sensitivity. On Friday,
Warner Bros. pulled a promotion for a mob film "Gangster Squad"
from theaters, canceled a "Dark Knight" premiere in Paris,
called off app e arances by the cast in Mexico and Japan, and said
it would not post any more box-office figures until the weekend
"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," the company said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Warner pulled video ads for 9/11 film
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" around Ground Zero in New
York after residents there complained it was insensitive.
In the wake of those attacks back in 2001, promotional
posters for Sony Pictures Entertainment's "Spider-Man" were
changed to remove images of the World Trade Center towers.
Back in 1991 at the premieres of gangland crime drama "Boyz
n The Hood," one man was killed and many injured when random
violence erupted in several movie theaters across the United
States, forcing some venues to cancel screenings.
While much of Hollywood remained quiet in public, some
stars, including former California governor and actor Arnold
Schwarzenegger, comedienne Ellen DeGeneres, "American Idol" host
Ryan Seacrest and film director Kevin Smith took to Twitter to
express shock, sorrow and in some cases, anger.
"A mad man has shattered lives forever in Colorado. To
everyone who helped folks get to safety in that theatre THANK
YOU for your bravery ... Hearts and Prayers to all affected by
the craziness in Colorado," Whoopi Goldberg tweeted.
VIOLENCE IN MEDIA
In the days and weeks to follow, the shooting will likely
renew calls for ways to reduce violence in movies and people
will point to Hollywood as being, in some ways, responsible for
Friday's deadly shooting spree.
Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills media psychiatrist who
specializes in the impact of media on people, thought it was
likely no coincidence that the suspected gunman, 24-year-old
James Eagan Holmes, picked the "Batman" movie with its violent
tale of good versus evil to carry out the deadly shooting.
"It's tragic, but we're going to find out that he has been
exposed to significant amounts of media violence in his past,"
The National Association of Theatre Owners, a trade industry
group representing movie theater owners, said its member
companies were "working closely with local law enforcement
agencies and reviewing security procedures."
AMC Theaters, one of the largest chains in the United
States, said it would not allow guests to wear face-covering
masks or take fake weapons inside its buildings.
Carmike Cinemas, the nation's fourth-largest theater chain,
said it was using uniformed "law enforcement officers and
plainclothes agents" at its 237 theaters.
Shares of movie theater chains dropped on Friday after the
killings. Cinemark Holdings, declined 4.6 percent to
close at $23.15 on the New York Stock Exchange. Regal
Entertainment Group shares fell 4.4 percent to close at
$13.54 on Nasdaq. Shares of Carmike slipped 2.3 percent to
$14.48, also on Nasdaq.