LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Batman movie "The Dark Knight" should soar into the box office stratosphere with its U.S. debut in a record number of theaters on Friday that could propel it past the $100 million mark on its opening weekend, industry watchers said.
Topping that blockbuster figure would push "Dark Knight" into rare air seen by only 10 other wide-release movies including "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."
Already, advance ticket sales have resulted in the sell-out of nearly 1,000 showtimes, online ticket seller Fandango said.
"It's been a true phenomenon for us, we started to see interest as early as last year for this film," said Rick Butler, chief operating officer for Fandango.
Warner Bros., the unit of Time Warner Inc that is releasing "Dark Knight," said it will debut in 4,366 theaters, edging out the record of 4,362 theaters set by "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" with its 2007 opening. That movie raked in about $115 million on its debut weekend.
"Dark Knight" will hope to beat the record debut of Sony Pictures Entertainment's "Spider-Man 3" in 2007, which reached $151 million. Sony Pictures is part of Japanese electronics company Sony Corp.
In the No. 2 spot is the $135.6 million debut for 2006's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," released by the film division of The Walt Disney Co.
"Certainly a $100-plus million opening weekend is in the cards," said Paul Dergarabedian, who heads box office tracker Media by Numbers. "I cannot imagine a movie that has been more highly anticipated than this one, at least in recent memory."
Generally speaking, fans and critics who have seen the film in advance are giving it rave reviews especially for the performance of Heath Ledger as the deranged villain, The Joker.
On rottentomatoes.com, which aggregates reviews, "Dark Knight" has received a 91 percent positive rating.
Critics say the latest movie in the Batman series is a thrilling depiction of good versus evil, picking up where 2005's "Batman Begins" left off.
That film was a smash hit with a worldwide gross of just about $372 million, after opening to roughly $49 million in the United States and Canada.
"Batman Begins" reshaped the series of films by going back to the character's origins, after the critical failure of 1997's "Batman & Robin," the fourth installment in a series that began with director Tim Burton's 1989 "Batman."
"The Dark Knight" stars Christian Bale as Batman, and was directed by Christopher Nolan who made "Batman Begins."
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte