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Unbreakable Dark Knight
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"The Dark Knight" fended off a strong challenge from the new "Mummy" sequel to lead the North American box office for a third weekend, and is on track to become the second-biggest movie of all time.

The Batman blockbuster earned $43.8 million for the three days beginning Friday, distributor Warner Bros. Pictures said on Sunday. Universal's "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" followed with $42.5 million.

The Walt Disney Co. political comedy "Swing Vote" came in at No. 6 with just $6.3 million, the latest disappointment for its star, Kevin Costner, who has not had a $100 million movie since 1992's "The Bodyguard."

The total for "The Dark Knight" rose to $394.9 million. Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, said it expects the film to add at least $100 million, surpassing the $461 million haul of 1977's "Star Wars" and its two reissues, the current No. 2 movie of all time in the United States and Canada. The $601 million record, held by 1997's "Titanic," seems watertight. Adjusted for inflation, though, "Titanic" ranks at No. 6, far behind "Gone with the Wind" at $1.4 billion, according to tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

"The Dark Knight" will add yet another record to its impressive tally on Monday or Tuesday, when it breaks $400 million, which would be its 18th or 19th day of release. The old record of 43 days is held by 2004's "Shrek 2."

Internationally, "The Dark Knight" has earned $205 million, Warner Bros. said. Top markets include Britain with $50 million and Australia with $32 million.

Mummy big overseas

Pundits had predicted that the "Mummy" movie could open to upwards of $50 million domestically, roughly in between its two predecessors, but the critically mauled Brendan Fraser film was a little bruised by the Batman juggernaut.

It marks the follow-up to 2001's "The Mummy Returns," which opened to $68 million. The franchise relaunched in 1999 with a $43.4 million bow for "The Mummy."

Universal said "The Mummy" was big internationally. The film, co-starring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, opened to $59.5 million from 28 territories. Top markets included Russia and South Korea, each with about $13 million. Because the action is set in China, and the Olympic Games kick off in Beijing on Friday, Universal has been cross-promoting the movie with its General Electric Co corporate sibling NBC, which holds the U.S. broadcast rights to the games.

Fraser has had a low profile since appearing as part of the ensemble in the Oscar-winning 2004 movie "Crash." But he now has two movies in the top 5, with Warner Bros.' "Journey to the Center of the Earth" at No. 5 with a four-week total of $73.1 million.

"Swing Vote," in which Costner plays a hard-drinking oaf whose vote will determine the outcome of a U.S. presidential election, was released as a counterprogramming attempt. Disney distribution president Chuck Viane billed it as "a thinking person's movie," but it ended up being one of the worst openings of Costner's career. Reviews were mixed.

Disney's only summer success, the Pixar-produced cartoon "WALL-E" has earned $204.2 million after six weeks, and will pass the $206 million haul of last year's "Ratatouille." But it will end up as only the sixth-biggest of Pixar's nine productions.

Despite the strong performance of "The Dark Knight" and "The Mummy," overall sales fell for the second consecutive weekend, according to tracking firm Media By Numbers. The top 12 films grossed $149 million, down 10 percent from the year-ago period. Year to date, revenues are flat at $5.9 billion, while the number of tickets sold is down almost 3 percent.

(Reuters August 4, 2008)

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