On July 20, 2012, a gunman barged into a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in the Denver suburb of Aurora, Colorado. Within moments, 12 people had been killed and 50 others wounded. In the aftermath, Christopher Nolan's Batman epic lost perhaps as much as $20 million in opening-weekend business. The American ritual of moviegoing seemed endangered.
One year later, it endures.
Midnight screenings, often the fanboy's first chance to see a freshly popped popcorn movie, and once believed at the most risk of being tainted, or "ruined," by the "Dark Knight Rises" massacre, are, if not more successful than ever, still successful given the right mix of movie and midnight. The final "Twilight" movie, "Breaking Dawn Part 2," which opened four months after Aurora, grossed roughly $30 million in its midnight debut, on the high side for the vampire series. This summer's "Iron Man 3" set a franchise record with a take in the neighborhood of $15.6 million.
Overall box-office business, which took an immediate but brief hit after Aurora, is solid. While attendance is expected to drop this year — a dip attributed, in a new study as reported by Deadline.com, to the absence of an abundance of $400 million-plus hits such as 2012's "The Avengers," "The Hunger Games" and even " The Dark Knight Rises" — ticket revenue is up, thanks to audiences' relative tolerance of record-high prices. The summer has been especially hot, with earnings at one point up 15 percent over last year's beach season, per Exhibitor Relations.
The type of movie that moviegoers are making hits (and bombs) of seems the same as it ever was: Comic-book-style violence is preferred, as the (fat) bottom lines of "Iron Man 3," "Man of Steel," and "Star Trek Into Darkness" attest; CGI family comedies are gold (see: "Monsters University" and "Despicable Me 2"); and 25 years after "Die Hard" fired up the action genre, shoot-'em-ups, such as "White House Down," are running on fumes.
The particulars of moviegoing also seem the same as they ever were: Ticket takers here, concession-stand workers there. And the extra police we saw (and only at some theaters) in the days after Aurora seem to be long gone. Whether the casual appearance is deceiving is unknown. A spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners said the group doesn't publicly discuss security and overall declined comment.
In Aurora itself, moviegoing endures as it does elsewhere. The multiplex picked as the "perfect venue" for a rampage, according to the prosecutor at a preliminary hearing for accused shooter James Holmes (who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and awaits trial), was reopened and rechristened in January. The Century 16, now known as the Century Aurora, has a full slate of movies on tap for the weekend, including "Red 2" and "The Conjuring."
Next week, it'll get the summer's latest would-be blockbuster, "The Wolverine," and fanboys who want the earliest look at the Hugh Jackman superhero movie will get it. The Century Aurora will open the movie on Thursday night at 10 p.m., 10:30 p.m., and 11 p.m. Not quite midnight, but close to it.