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Wee wizard eyes ‘Star’s’ orbit

Though 'Potter's' no 'Titanic,' it may overtake 'Phantom'

“Harry” is unlikely to become a billionaire.

But Warner Bros.’ family-fantasy blockbuster may come awfully close to that mark once its final worldwide box office is tallied.

Called “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in the U.S. and “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” abroad, pic amassed $484.3 million in worldwide box office through Dec. 9. That includes $239.7 million in domestic grosses and $244.6 million in foreign.

“Harry” has yet to bow in several territories, but the best estimate so far has the Chris Columbus-helmed adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s bestseller grossing at about $900 million worldwide eventually.

That would fall well short of record-holder “Titanic,” which amassed an incredible $1.8 billion worldwide over 1997-98.

But pic could challenge 1999’s “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” for the No. 2 all-time position. “Phantom Menace” took in $925.6 million worldwide.

Domestically, “Harry” is expected to approach — and perhaps surpass — $400 million in total B.O. Its $90.3 million bow over the Nov. 16-18 frame was the biggest opening ever, surpassing even the four-day debut of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” in May 1999.

But since its opening, “Harry” has encountered significant competish in a crowded holiday marketplace.

Most notably, Disney’s family toon “Monsters, Inc.” continues its upward trajectory, climbing north of $200 million last week. And New Line’s PG-13 action fantasy “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” unspools worldwide Dec. 19 in a high-profile bow that’s sure to nip at potential “Harry” auds.

“Harry” is sure to outdistance Warner’s previous top all-time grosser, 1989’s “Batman,” which winged to $251 million domestically.

“We’ll surely shatter that record over the next few weeks,” distrib boss Dan Fellman says.

Meanwhile, the foreign reception for “Harry” has been enthusiastic. Overseas, “Harry Potter” is tracking strongly enough to finish north of $400 million. Just how far north is a matter of conjecture among rival distribs (WB itself resolutely declines to disclose its projections).

Building on a record-breaking bow of $62.3 million in 37 countries over Dec. 7-9, pic was on track to hit $300 million abroad by Dec. 16. By then, “Harry” will have opened in every major market, so the key to its longevity will be twofold: generating repeat business and facing down year-end competish.

Repeat visits are already evident in most territories, but lots of folks will have to want to see the pic again and again for it to reach the heights of “Phantom Menace,” which amassed $494.4 million outside North America.

The little sorcerer is fortunate in the relative paucity of many heavyweight titles vying for young auds at years’ end. Among contenders are “Shrek” in Japan, “Monsters, Inc.” in Latin America and Southeast Asia and “The Princess Diaries” in a few markets, including the U.K. and Germany.

The biggest threat almost certainly will come from “Rings,” which is rolling out in most territories day-and-date with domestic. But many observers believe Peter Jackson’s fantasy will skew a bit older and more male than “Harry,” although some overlap still seems likely.

” ‘Rings’ may make an impact,” says one U.S. exec. “I think that could be the deciding factor.”

Another studio exec says, “With kids about to go on holidays in markets like the U.K., I think business (for ‘Harry’) will go through the roof.”

Bill Ireton, Warners managing director in Japan, last week predicted “Harry” will gross $120 million in Japan after pic’s second record-breaking weekend there. If he’s right, that could seal the deal for at least $450 million in foreign B.O.

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