Heath Ledger as The Joker, planning to burn up the box office

Box office hounds are anticipating the numbers for this weekend’s The Dark Knight almost as much as they are anticipating seeing the film. And with studio hype and pop culture awareness for this blockbuster at an all-time high, many people are wondering what the final result could be.

The number I’ve seen ballyhooed about most is $130 million for the three-day weekend, including midnight (and 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.) shows. This would be great for a movie that isn’t opening on a holiday or long weekend. Word from Warner Bros. is that the film will finish in the $90 to $100 million range.

Still, our illustrious Executive Editor Neil Miller has said this film “will pretty much make a billion dollars on opening weekend.”

Is that possible? How much could The Dark Knight potentially make?

With the 2 1/2 hour running time, there’s really only enough room to fit seven shows in per screen, unless you run it around the clock (which is really only going to happen the first night). On average, movie theaters have 225 seats.

According to the National Association of Theaters Owners, the average ticket price in 2007 was $6.88. Assuming roughly 2% inflation, let’s round that to $7 per ticket on average in the United States this weekend.

Crunch those numbers together (7 showings per screen x 225 seats per theater x $7 per ticket), and you have a potential of $11,025 per screen per day if each showing were to sell out.

Although the final theater/screen count isn’t concrete yet, the film is scheduled to open in more than 4300 theaters, many of which will be showing it on multiple screens. Let’s assume that on the average, theaters will be showing it in two houses. That gives a potential $22,050 per theater, conservatively.

If every seat in every theater sells out, The Dark Knight could make $94,815,000 each day it is open. Tack on an extra $10 million or so for midnight shows on Thursday night, and you’re pushing $300 million for opening weekend ($294 million and change, to be more exact).

Of course, if every one of the 301 million men, women and children in the U.S. were to see it opening weekend, at $7 per ticket, it could make more than $2 billion.

So, Neil Miller might be right after all. We shall see, come Monday.

How much do you think The Dark Knight will make?

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