After a $90 mil weekend, WB waxes its 'Harry' legs

The only thing bigger than “Harry Potter’s” opening-weekend B.O. bounty may be the expectations surrounding it.

That’s the feeling of most industryites following a stratospheric $90.3 million three-day take for Warner Bros.’ franchise kickoff.

The actual number may have been lower than Sunday’s estimate, but showbizzers were abuzz Monday over the long-term prospects of the juvenile wizard tale. Could it, for example, fly all the way to the “Titanic” twin marks of $600 million domestic and $1.8 billion worldwide?

The consensus is that it’s too early to tell, but the pic’s initial days already assure it a place in history.

“Even if it drops 50% every weekend from now to the New Year, it’s still at a level we’ve never seen,” sighed one WB rival.

“How can you look at that number and not go ‘Wow’?” agreed Dan Marks, VP of box office tracker ACNielsen EDI. “It’s hard to do much better than they’ve done and it’s obviously going to play very well through the holiday season.”

If “Harry” can post a $9.7 million Monday, then it will have set a new record as the fastest pic to hit the $100 million mark; if it does so today, it will match the five-day mark set two years ago by “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.” “My gut feeling is that we probably will break $100 million on Tuesday,” Fellman said.

Repeat biz has already been a factor, Fellman asserted, and will obviously be the factor to watch in the weeks to come. Exit poll numbers have been healthy, and with the lore of the “Potter” books going strong, the indifference of critics is not apt to be a severe handicap, B.O. watchers say.

The “Toy Story 2″ record of $80.7 million set in 1999 for the five-day Thanksgiving holiday looks to be in jeopardy from “Harry.” That means “Harry” could be around the $200 million mark by Sunday. That would put it on the verge of enteriing the all-time domestic top 30 after just 10 days of release.

B.O. analyst David Davis, VP of Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin, said “Harry” appears certain to become the ninth pic ever to top $300 million in domestic grosses. But as for matching “Titanic’s” unforseen, kudos-driven run, Davis is dubious.

The only challenge for “Potter,” oddly enough, could be adjusting to the change in altitude. Only two of the top 10 all-time grossers had opening weekends of $50 million or higher. More common are long-players like “Sixth Sense,” “Forrest Gump” or “Home Alone,” which take months to make their mark.

As is usually the case on even a run-of-the-mill release, the second weekend’s performance will shape the rest of the ride. After the recent “summer of drops” and its 50%-plus roller-coaster, it is difficult for anyone to predict how a movie playing on one-fourth of U.S. screens will fare in its sophomore outing.

Consider “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which Universal launched on the same pre-Thanksgiving weekend in 2000, racked up $260 million in the U.S., becoming the No. 13 grosser ever. Fending off four other wide releases in its first five days, it dropped a surprising 5% in its second frame, piling $52 million onto an already stellar $55.1 million opening.

If “Potter” assumes a “Grinch”-ian profile and quintuples its opening number over its entire run, it would be on its way past $400 million.

Significantly, Warners’ pic faces little in the way of head-to-head family competish until the week before Christmas, when Par opens “Jimmy Neutron” and New Line rolls out “The Lord of the Rings.”

As for rival entries before then, Marks is employing the “rising tide lifts all ships” analogy, contending that the “Harry” frenzy should help generate serious coin for other major releases in coming weeks. That could well be true — as anyone who tracked grosses over the explosive 1999 Thanksgiving period will recall — though “Potter’s” mind-bending 55% market share last weekend kept overall receipts flat compared with the 2000 frame.

Sony’s “Black Knight” and U’s “Spy Game,” both opening Wednesday, look to be immediate spillover beneficiaries, especially since they seek an audience that is not at “Potter’s” white-hot core.

Even if the first “Potter” somehow undershoots some of the sky-high projections, there’s always next year. Warners already has committed to Thanksgiving 2002 for “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

Same weekend. Same kid with glasses. The only blank to fill in, as always, is the opening number.

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