Long before this morning's just-past-midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight" at theaters around town, nearly all the tickets had been snapped up by die-hard moviegoers already well-versed in buzz, reviews, interviews and Internet chatter about the new Batman movie.
Take costume-clad David Kirik and his daughter, Megan, who strapped the TV from their game room to the top of their Buick Century and watched "Batman Begins" in the parking lot of AMC-Loews at The Waterfront in West Homestead while waiting for the 12:01 a.m. show.
In torn fishnet stockings, mask and black ears, Megan, 16, was Catwoman. Mr. Kirik, whose white face paint, fluorescent purple hair and red, maniacal smile took an hour to prepare, was the Joker. They had tickets two weeks ago.
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The lure of "The Dark Knight?"
"It's just the Joker, the fact that he looks so creepy," Megan, of Brentwood, said. "It's different than the other movies."
Jessica Trainor, 18, of Wexford, also in chalk-white Joker face paint, waited with equally eager friends Lauren Case, 19, of Sewickley, and Victoria Klucher, 18, of Mt. Lebanon. The trio, longtime Batman fans, said they've spent the past months gripped to the trailers, trying hard to avoid spoilers and reviews of the film.
"It's been so fun to watch it all. Even the hype they've created is so unrealistic," Ms. Trainor said. Of their costumes, she added: "It's almost like Halloween for a movie."
In the Pittsburgh area, "Dark Knight" is playing at 20 theaters -- not just screens -- while across the country, The Joker's lipstick-smeared face will flicker across 4,300 screens.
Fandango, the online ticket seller for more than 15,000 screens nationwide, including AMC, Carmike and Cinemark theaters, reported that as of yesterday morning, there were hundreds of sold-out midnight (and beyond) showtimes across the country and that the site expected Friday "to be our biggest ticket-selling day in company history."
"The Dark Knight" represented 94 percent of Fandango sales. That left tiny slices of the pie for "Mamma Mia!" and "Space Chimps," also opening on Friday but not generating the same hunger for advance seats.
"The Dark Knight" could rank among this year's top three movies in box-office sales and take in more than $100 million when it opens this weekend, Gitesh Pandya, editor of the industry tracker Web site BoxOfficeGuru, told Bloomberg News.
"It's unquestionably the most anticipated movie for the rest of the summer," Mr. Pandya, who is based in New York, told Bloomberg. "It was already going to be a blockbuster before Heath Ledger's death. That's really provided a whole second level of interest, especially for those who were not really into comic book films."
Mr. Ledger, who is garnering acclaim for his portrayal of the Joker, died in January of an accidental overdose.
Mr. Pandya predicted that "The Dark Knight" may produce opening weekend returns similar to Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Iron Man."
Directed by Christopher Nolan, the sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins" probably cost $150 million to make and may generate more than $250 million at the U.S. box office, behind the more than $300 million "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones" will likely reap, he told Bloomberg News.
At AMC-Loews at the Waterfront, eight midnight shows were sold out, but there were tickets for some weekend shows. A customer service rep said that when it became apparent that the four shows a day would not meet demand, more showings were added on more screens, until "The Dark Knight" could be seen about every half-hour.
At SouthSide Works Cinema, spokesman David Huffman said tickets were almost gone for the shows at around 7 p.m. tonight, and that it was "very uncommon to have advance sellouts" at the SouthSide Works.
The Cinemark chain reported strong advance sales at its theaters -- 287 in the United States, including ones in Frazer and Center townships -- where "The Dark Knight" is playing on multiple screens.
National Amusements, which operates Showcase Cinemas North and West, also called sales brisk.
Staff writer Sharon Eberson contributed. Barbara Vancheri can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1632. Sadie Gurman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1878. First Published July 18, 2008 4:00 AM