LOS ANGELES — It's a puzzle worthy of The Riddler: Why is there no video game based on "The Dark Knight"?
For the first time in the film-franchise's history, the caped crusader flew into movie theaters without a video game attached to his utility belt. Despite a plethora of "Dark Knight" action figures, bobbleheads and T-shirts sweeping in Bat-dollars beyond the film's $400 million record-smashing box office, no "Dark Knight" game is following suit.
Whatever held things up caused about $100 million in sales to be missed, according to estimates.
It's not as if an interactive "Dark Knight" wasn't gearing up before the film's release. Game publisher Electronic Arts had the rights to make a "Dark Knight" title, which EA-owned developer Pandemic Studios was working on, according to an EA manager who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is proprietary.
Gary Oldman, the actor who plays Gotham City police officer James Gordon, said in a recent interview with cable network G4 that he had seen a "tiny little piece" of "The Dark Knight" game and described a sequence with Batman realistically gliding across rooftops. Oldman also said the game is supposed to feel like it "doesn't stop and start."
Beyond that, details about the game have been as concealed as Bruce Wayne in the Batsuit. Spokespeople for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, EA and Pandemic would not comment for this story.
Speculation about the cause for the disappearing act has included missed deadlines, Heath Ledger's death, questionable quality and poor sales projections.
Based on the record-breaking success of the movie, Wedbush Morgan video game industry analyst Michael Pachter believes a "Dark Knight" game released at the same time as the blockbuster film last month could have sold 4 million units and banked $100 million — with $70 million going to the game's publisher and $30 million going to Warner Bros.
Sales of movie-based games often parallel their box-office brethren. Last year's "Transformers" games sold 2.6 million copies while the "Spider-Man III" games sold 2.1 million, according to sales data from NPD Group analyst Anita Frazier. Even the "Iron Man" games have sold 697,000 units following their release at the same time as the film in May.
To quote Jack Nicholson's Joker: "And where ... is the Batman?"
"I think publishers have concluded the only games that work are the surefire $500 million box office kind of games like 'Spider-Man' and 'Shrek,'" Pachter told The Associated Press. "The 'Transformers' game really surprised people how well it did, but the movie was big. I don't think they expected 'The Dark Knight' movie to be this big."
Games pegged to comic-book and kiddie flicks have become as financially important to the movie industry as popcorn and candy. Movie-based games provide another revenue stream to movie studios and often give game publishers a fighting chance for consumers' cash, mostly thanks to movie buzz and instantly recognizable characters.
Since director Tim Burton first brought "Batman" to the big screen in 1989, games tied to every Batman film — including "Batman Returns," ''Batman & Robin" and "Batman Forever" — have been released for various gaming platforms. EA might have decided to bow out of the Batman business after what happened with the previous movie-based adaptation.
In 2005, EA unleashed a "Batman Begins" game alongside director Chris Nolan's moody re-imagination of the Batman franchise. The stealth action game featured the voices of the film's stars, such as Christian Bale, Katie Holmes and Morgan Freeman. But the game received a lukewarm critical reception and only sold 587,000 copies. Ker-plop!
If a "Dark Knight" game is still in the works, Batman could take a cue from Superman. Because of delays, the EA console games based on 2006's "Superman Returns" didn't take flight until the DVD release — and only then sold 705,000 copies. However, a "Dark Knight" game isn't on EA's release slate through March 2009, according to the EA manager.
That doesn't mean gamers will be without interactive incarnations of Batman, The Joker and Two-Face this year. Warner will release "Lego Batman: The Video Game" in September. The cartoony platform game developed by Traveller's Tales will feature the caped crusader and company solving puzzles and fighting foes in the form of the famous colorful blocks.
In November, DC Comics characters such as Batman, The Joker and Catwoman can duel in Midway's fighting game "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe." And later this year, Sony Online Entertainment will shine the Bat-signal on a virtual Gotham City in the new massively multiplayer online role-playing game "DC Universe Online.