Theaters leave bat signal on till dawn

“The Dark Knight” just spilled over into early morning.

In a frenzy, fans have bought so many late-night tickets for the July 18 opening of the next Batman movie that theaters in places like San Diego, Chicago and even Eagan, Minn., are scheduling 6 a.m. screenings for those who can't get in at midnight or 3 in the morning.

Movie theaters have sometimes opened their doors at odd hours for their most highly anticipated films, say, an entry in the “Star Wars” series, and midnight shows have become part of the summer blockbuster ritual.

But all-night sellouts far in advance of an opening have come only with the near-ubiquity of online ticket sales., for instance, reports well over 1,500 wee-hour showings for “The Dark Knight” in theaters that typically do not open their doors before about 10 a.m.

“The Dark Knight,” starring Christian Bale as Batman, is directed by Christopher Nolan. It builds on his “Batman Begins,” which took in more than $200 million at the domestic box office for Warner Brothers after opening to a solid, but not spectacular, $49 million in domestic ticket sales in June 2005.

This time much of the fan interest has been driven by word of a career-topping performance by Heath Ledger, the Australian actor who died in January. His edgy interpretation of the Joker has already inspired Oscar talk.

In Charlotte, “The Dark Knight” will be given midnight screenings at Northlake, Concord Mills, Phillips Place and Carolina Pavilion; several theaters – including Starlight, Birkdale and Crown Point – will unveil the movie at 9 a.m. July 18. NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE