So, it’s finally here, and for many (or at least me) The Dark Knight Rises is the make or break movie of the summer. But even if it is truly great, it’s been a pretty bad season for event films. The Avengers, and a number of the animated films were hits, making money and not just through international numbers. And pretty much everything else either broke even or bombed.

This, though, gets into the tricky business of understanding the numbers. Studios will lie about what a film actually cost, and they may report a number once they’ve seen how a movie is doing. Take for instance this summer’s Prometheus. Which has a listed production budget of $130 Million. Is that really what it cost? Seems doubtful, but when you add the domestic cume of $124 Million to the international numbers you get to near $300 Million, so it looks like it eeked out a profit (general math is 2x cost for success, because theaters also get a cut of the money). Just as Men in Black 3 has a listed production budget of $225, which means that its $175 Million, plus international gets it over $600 Million. At the end of the day neither of these movies made money in America.

And that could be the changed goalposts of box office, because studios are obviously looking at international to help determine what they make. This problem is something that the studios created. Video windows are now generally three to four months, and a film then makes almost all of its money in the first two months, and generally more than half in the first two weeks (art house films excepted). MIB3 did $175 Million, $111 of that  in the first eleven days. Prometheus is at $124 Million, it did $90 Million of that in the first ten days. The Avengers is at $614 Million domestic, $373 of that in the first ten days.

So what that means is that for a film to be a hit, you really have to get people in the door as soon as possible. And that means spending on advertising, which on an event film is often around $100 Million (or more). These are the numbers that are not reported as part of a film’s budget, and also partly why it’s hard to believe the numbers. But then also, with that, there’s a lot of one hand washing the other. Say Disney spends $40 Million marketing Brave on ABC, the company they own, how does that get parsed? NBC ran a lot of Battleship promos, NBC is part of Universal. In the studio days (when things shot more on the lot), studios would rent their own space and props to themselves. There’s less of that now, but still. The waters are always muddy on this. And then it’s hard to know how much Dr. Pepper pays or Marvel pays to get The Avengers characters on Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper.

That said, whatever metrics are being used, there have a number of films that didn’t make much of an impression this year, and many of the event films didn’t open or died. There’s been some bright spots outside of The Avengers with Ted and Magic Mike, but the rest of the summer’s big movies all have question marks.

So we go into The Dark Knight Rises hoping for excellence, knowing that word is mixed, and that fandom (or at least its most vocal partitioners) is currently filled with people who like to yell loudly about how great something is that they haven’t seen. I will go in to the movie tonight with some excitement, some trepidation (the film is not universally loved), and knowing that regardless of quality, the film is going to be a monster hit. Because that’s the way the world works now.

And let’s be realistic, the film is going to be huge but The Avengers had 3D and the price increase that comes with it (on top of TDKR‘s near-three hour running time), which means that it’s virtually impossible for Batman to do over $200 Million in its opening weekend. Virtually.

So let’s predict:

  1. The Dark Knight Rises – $192 Million

That’s a lot of cheddar.

What are you seeing this weekend?