NEW YORK — If you haven't already, you might want to pick up the Batphone and order your tickets for "The Dark Knight."
Advance sales are through the roof, fans are heading to 12:01 a.m. screenings in Batman gear and the buzz is growing: It's a chance to see the late Heath Ledger _ if you haven't heard, he's The Joker _ in one of his finest performances and connect with one of the nation's most mystical superhero franchises.
Hundreds of midnight showtimes are sold out across the country, and Fandango predicts Friday will be the biggest ticket-selling day in company history. The movie is playing on 4,300 screens.
"I got my ticket online two weeks ago," said Anne McPherson, 23, of New York. "I only saw the last Batman, which I really liked. When I saw the trailer, the moment when they showed Heath Ledger, it grabbed my attention. He looked so evil and twisted."
The movie was Fandango's second best-selling movie in pre-sales _ "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" was No. 1 _ and made up 94 percent of this week's Fandango ticket sales.
The popularity of what seems like the umpteenth Batman movie seems to hinge on a confluence of cultural currents, not the least of which is the lingering grief surrounding the accidental overdose death of Ledger in January.
His twisted, riveting portrayal of one of Batman's most diabolical enemies has drawn rave reviews and talk of a posthumous Oscar.
The buzz is inspiring "that kind of adulation you'd expect for a rock star," says Rick Butler, chief operating officer of Fandango. "It opens up the audience to non-Batman fans, who are going to the movies tonight to pay tribute to Heath Ledger."
It also encourages fleeting fans, who are wondering why there is another "Batman," to check out the film, says Anthony Mora of Anthony Mora Communications, which specializes in entertainment and lifestyle clients.
Gary Hoppenstand, a professor of American studies at Michigan State and editor of the Journal of Popular Culture, says the movie also rides a wave of comic book films such as "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" and even "Wanted," which was loosely based on a comic book, he says.
"So it's really I think reflective of the general popularity of this type of high-concept, big-budget film," he says. "The film without Heath Ledger would have been immensely successful."
The movie also features a stong cast, with Christian Bale as Batman, Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. And director Christopher Nolan was the director of the enormously successful "Batman Begins."
Longtime Batman fan Darren Dickerson, 33, of Los Angeles, says he would see the movie whether Ledger was in it or not, but he is anxious to see how he pulls off the role.
"This is the one I have really been waiting on," says Dickerson, who grew up reading the comic book and watching the cartoon. "This one incorporates more of the new era of Batman, the Dark Knight series. That's really what I am excited about _ to see that come to film as opposed to being in a cartoon or a comic form."