Well played, Batman. Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) latest installment in the superhero series -- The Dark Knight -- set a new record for domestic theatrical debuts, ringing up $155.3 million in ticket sales over the weekend.

The film's head-turning debut topples the $151.1 million box office take that Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Spider-Man 3 pushed through in its opening weekend last year.

Just as Batman seeks to inspire the downtrodden citizens of Gotham City, this news should give investors new hope:

  • It's a welcome sign for multiplex operators like Regal (NYSE:RGC) and AMC (NYSE:AC). Whether the economy is sound enough for consumers to afford movie tickets en masse, or times are so rough that a break from reality is in order, the exhibitors are holding up nicely.
  • Having Batman knock out Spider-Man actually means good things for both Marvel Entertainment (NYSE:MVL) and Time Warner's DC Comics. Audiences are apparently still hungry for superhero action flicks, as long as they are draw the sort of favorable reviews that Dark Knight and Marvel's Iron Man did. Iron Man remains this year's biggest film (for now), with $314.3 million in domestic ticket sales since its May arrival.
  • This summer may be crowded with potential juggernauts fighting for elbow room, but there is apparently enough room for the biggest stars to shine.

The news also means that Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) Paramount -- which distributed the three highest-grossing films to date in 2008, Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and DreamWorks Animation's (NYSE:DWA) Kung Fu Panda -- is unlikely to hog those top three spots by the time summer has run its course.

If the summer doldrums find you longing for a little air-conditioned escapism, the local multiplex is waiting for your hungry eyes. Grab a ticket ahead of time, though. You don't want to be caught on the wrong side of a ticket taker on a sold-out screening.

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