The Dark Knight, last summer's dark and dreary Batman sequel, recently became only the fourth film to break the $1 billion barrier in combined domestic and international box-office. As Box Office Mojo points out, the movie's record haul has some unique properties, too: First of all, it's a sequel, and sequels almost never surpass the earnings of their predecessors. It's also the only film amongst the all-time top twenty box-office champs to earn more domestically than overseas. 

A billion dollars is obviously a big deal, ensuring both a long-term legacy and a sea of near-term imitators. That means that, much to Ross Douthat's chagrin, comic-book movies will continue to flood into theaters. And, in order to ensure continuity, studios will sign actors to ever-longer deals, like, for example, the nine-picture agreement Samuel L. Jackson just signed with comic giant Marvel Entertainment -- a deal rumored to be one of the company's standard arrangements going forth. 

Meanwhile, genre films will follow Dark Knight's lead into grimmer and more ambiguous territory.  Watchmen, which opens March 6, follows a the adventures of cynical, even murderous anti-heroes. And the fourth Terminator sequel, Terminator: Salvation, is expected to be gritty and violent, with an ending the director promises will frustrate fans rather than satisfy them.  

Still, when put in context, The Dark Knight's success is somewhat less than its press releases exclaim: Despite being the second-highest grossing film ever domestically, it sits at a far less impressive 27th-place when you adjust for inflation, behind films like Mary Poppins and101 Dalmations. A billion dollars ain't what it used to be.