Studio plans broadest release o'seas in distrib's history

If international response is any indication, then “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is primed for the U.S. record books.

Casting a mighty spell over the U..K., pic conjured up a record-breaking $5 million Saturday from previews at about 480 locations, the highest single-day gross in Blighty’s history, Warner Bros. Intl. reported Sunday.

The distrib did not provide an estimate for the Sunday sneaks, but the Saturday number already has eclipsed the market’s previous two-day record for previews: nearly $2.9 million earned by “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” in 1999.

The studio is planning the broadest release overseas in the distrib’s history, according to Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, WB prexy of international theatrical distribution.

The number of prints isn’t finalized yet but Kwan-Rubinek said it will be approximately 8,000 — the industry’s widest ever, beating “Pearl Harbor,” which Disney unleashed in waves, eventually totaling 7,500 screens outside North America. Warner’s confidence is high: The studio has already laid claim to Nov. 15, 2002 as the release date for the second “Potter” pic.

The coffers of U.K.’s biggest loop, Odeon Cinemas, were bulging with advance sales worth £1.3 million ($1.8 million) through Nov. 5. Similarly, the UGC chain reports that sales for the pic have “gone through the roof.”

Records expected

Blighty bookers say there’s no doubt that advance biz for the film based on the bestselling English novel will set an industry record, probably toppling “Star Wars: Episode One — The Phantom Menace.” (No one Variety spoke to seemed sure about previous advances as those figures were not routinely tracked.)

The saga of the boy wizard, starring David Radcliffe, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris and Maggie Smith, does not appear to face any cultural hurdles as the book has sold widely throughout the world, including Asia.

Four weeks before the launch in Japan, “Harry” fans had snapped up 34,049 tickets — the second-biggest advance in that period, behind local toon “The End of Evangelion,” which clocked 43,295 ducats in 1997, but 158% ahead of the “Phantom Menace” advance in the comparable frame, and more than double that of “Jurassic Park.”

WB expects sales to exceed 100,000 by the Dec. 1 debut, but it will trail the industry record for advances set by “Back to the Future III,” which pre-sold nearly 146,000 tickets.

Warner has been working closely with promo partner Coca-Cola to ensure maximum awareness of the film.

Goes better with Coke

In South Korea, for example, Coca-Cola is emblazoning its products with Harry Potter images. Special screenings start in Korea Nov. 15, and there are all manner of Harry Potter trinkets such as wristwatches and CD games.

The books have been bestsellers in Korea, and the local WB office says Koreans of all ages are eagerly awaiting the film, which bows Dec. 14.

In Italy, tickets usually go on sale only a week or so before films debut, but some cinemas are already pre-selling “Harry.”

Warner Italy’s Paolo Ferrari said everything is in place for the Dec. 6 release on about 250 screens (expanding to a super-wide 400 for Christmas), with awareness and interest running very high. There’s been considerable Italian press coverage, including double-page editorial spreads in some leading papers after the London preem.

Italy is one of the few major territories where “Harry Potter” will have a clear field in the fantasy market, as “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” doesn’t open there until Jan. 18.

Richard Parton, general manager of Australia’s Greater Union loop, confidently predicted “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” (as it’s titled in most foreign markets excluding Asia) will gross a hefty $20 million. That would eclipse the $16.3 million earned by “Shrek,” which, Parton observes, did not have “Harry’s” built-in awareness and brand recognition.

It remains to be seen how close it can get to “Titanic,” Oz’s all-time B.O. champ at $29.4 million.

Hong Kong eager

In Hong Kong, one exhib said there’s more anticipation for the little sorcerer than for another upcoming entry in the fantasy genre. “The awareness of the film here is pretty high, even though a lot of people don’t read much,” says Bob Vallone, general manager of UA Cinemas in Hong Kong, where “Harry” bows Dec. 20.

“People know much more about ‘Harry Potter’ than ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ If the picture is good, it will be huge, regardless of knowledge of the book.”

For sure, “Harry Potter’s” Nov. 29 launch on 474 screens Down Under is unprecedented, outstripping “Pearl Harbor,” which rolled out on a mere 411.

Aussie exhibs are sure “Harry” will surpass “Phantom Menace’s” pre-release record. Indeed, Village Cinemas’ John Iozzi said his loop has sold 35,000 tickets for the Warner pic, vs. 10,000 for “Menace” at the same point before their respective bows.

(David Rooney in Rome, Lee Simkins in London, Jeremy Hansen in Hong Kong and Mi Hui Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.)

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