‘Rings’ sequel captures more magic than Harry 2

Promo pizzazz puts both pix at B.O. peaks

Here’s a shock: The second “Harry Potter” blockbuster didn’t have as much heft domestically as the first. And while the sequel has eclipsed its U.S. result by 130% abroad, it hasn’t matched the original’s velocity internationally.

Here’s another surprise: “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” has outgunned the first installment at home and abroad, but its foreign haul is unlikely to match that of “Chamber of Secrets.”

Combined, the two Hogwarts sagas have harvested a mammoth $1.84 billion in worldwide B.O., while the two Hobbits adventures have minted $1.76 billion.

The healthy grosses didn’t come about from distribs resting on their laurels, however. Marketers made sure local filmgoers remembered the franchises with imaginative promo campaigns.

Stunned by the success of the first films, producing studios Warner Bros. and New Line released the sequels even wider overseas, and spent more on marketing. Neither will reveal figures, but it’s understood WB shelled out $60 million on ad-pub for “Secrets,” while New Line and its international distribs forked out slightly less than that.

“We spent slightly more on the sequel because we planned up front to do more in-season marketing than on the first one,” says Sue Kroll, WB president of international theatrical marketing. “We wanted to make sure the second film was seen as a new story with new characters.”

“Secrets” rolled out on a total of more than 10,000 screens internationally, about 1,000 more than for “Sorcerer.” With the second pic, WB put more emphasis on event-oriented advertising. For example, the floors and walls of subway stations in the U.K. and Taiwan were decorated as Quiddich playing fields, in Taiwan accompanied by whooshing sounds on P.A. systems.

For “Towers,” New Line’s campaign was targeted more closely at young females, recognizing this demo didn’t flock to the first pic.

To be sure, both sequels have benefited from the strengthening of the greenback against foreign currencies. Warner Bros. estimates favorable exchange rates enhanced “Chamber of Secret’s” $604 million overseas B.O. by 6.4%, or $39 million.

However in local currency, the second editions have streaked past their predecessors in the vast majority of offshore markets — a welcome surprise to both Warner Bros. and New Line.

“Chamber of Secrets” did finish below “Sorcerer’s Stone” in Germany, suffering, as has the entire market, from the country’s economic woes. Likewise was the case in Italy, where its run was curtailed by Italo hits “Christmas on the Nile” and “The Legend of Al, John and Jack.” Also, there’s no doubt that “Die Another Day,” which bowed in many places just one to two weeks after Potter, had a slight impact on the latter’s receipts.

“We were expecting ‘Chamber of Secrets’ to do more than $500 million (overseas), and we were hoping for $600 million,” says Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, WB president of international theatrical distribution. “To have two films gross more than $600 million in two years is incredible.”

New Line Intl. president Camela Galano acknowledges: “Pre-release, we didn’t really expect ‘Two Towers’ to exceed ‘Fellowship,’ because the first film made so much money. With the second film, we were always concerned it would suffer from being the middle child. But as soon as we released the film, we were shocked because it opened so much bigger than the first one.”

Through last weekend, “Two Towers” had amassed $562.5 million. It’s still earning good money in Japan and with China pegged for April 26, Galano hopes to finish close to $600 million.

Galano is sure the sequel was boosted by the ‘Fellowship’s” massive video sales. “Towers” significantly outperformed the original theatrically in Sweden, Norway and South Korea, where the follow-up was released day-and-date with many other markets, unlike the first, which went out after Christmas.

This December, there’s no “Harry” or 007 on the slate and that should help the third “Rings” episode, “Return of the King.” The main competition would seem to be from the third “Matrix” saga which bows domestically Nov. 7.

Don’t expect to hear any hype for the final Hobbits tale for a while. “There are other films in the market, particularly the two ‘Matrix’ movies, and we are going to let them have their day before we gear up,” says Galano.

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