Harry's Holy Grail to be 'Goblet'

This weekend it’s Harry’s world. Everyone else just lives in it.

With tracking through the roof and only Fox’s adult-oriented “Walk the Line” daring to open against it, Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” looks set to at least match the performance of its three predecessors — which all opened to around $90 million — as it bows on 3,858 screens.

“Goblet” is also launching at 5,900 engagements in 19 foreign markets during the frame, with the key openings in the U.K., Germany and Mexico. Other significant markets include Austria, China, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Taiwan and Thailand.

“Harry Potter” pics have always conjured up more coin overseas. The first three cumed $1.82 billion overseas, about twice the $930 million they saw Stateside.

As it did with previous franchise entries, Warner Bros. Intl. will employ a staggered foreign release pattern — launching in major territories over three frames rather than going day-and-date all at once. “Goblet of Fire” will open in 17 markets next weekend, including Italy, Japan and Spain, followed by launches in Australia, France and South Korea during the first December frame.

First two “Potter” films also opened on the third weekend of November — in 2001 and 2002 — and on about the same number of screens. They drew $90.3 million and $88.4 million domestic, respectively.

“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which hit 3,800-plus screens on the first weekend of June last year, bowed to $93.7 million domestic.

Worldwide, “Azkaban” opened to $206 million with 24 foreign territories (including four extra weekdays in the U.K.). “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” the second pic, had a $148 million global debut. Original “Potter” opened in only two foreign territories simultaneous with the U.S., making an extra $26.1 million in the U.K. and Taiwan.

“Goblet of Fire” could be the No. 2 debut of the year domestically, behind only the $108.4 million for “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” in May. Currently in the second spot is “War of the Worlds,” which bowed to $77 million over the four-day July Fourth weekend.

Pic’s weekend take will benefit from midnight shows this morning. Online ticketer Fandango reported it had already sold out hundreds of them and that “Goblet of Fire” was its second-biggest pic ever in terms of advance sales, behind only “Sith.”

With the first PG-13 rating for a “Potter” pic, however, WB may have a challenge topping the past three, as some families with young kids could stay away. Studio is no doubt hoping that positive notices and buzz about its more mature content will bring in enough adults to make up for the missing tots.

“The tracking is huge, and we have no concerns that the box office is going to be great,” said Dan Fellman, WB’s domestic distrib topper. “Whether it will be $5 million more or less (than previous ‘Potter’ films), it’s hard to say.”

With “Goblet of Fire” the first of several blockbusters opening this holiday season, including Disney and Walden’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” and Universal’s “King Kong,” industryites are hoping this weekend will be the beginning of an uptick that can help erase the B.O. deficit. So far, 2005 grosses are off 7% from 2004.

“Walk the Line” and third week of “Chicken Little” will be fighting it out for second place, most likely in the mid- to high teens.

Fox is hoping its Johnny Cash biopic, which bows on 2,961 screens, can draw an adult audience from both Cash’s base of fans and those attracted by positive reviews and Oscar buzz.

Last year’s singer biopic “Ray” opened to $20 million in late October and went on to cume $75.3 million.

Warners has already staged three preems for “Goblet of Fire” — the worldwide premiere in London on Nov. 6 followed by the French event in Paris on Nov. 8 and the U.S. preem this past Saturday in Gotham.

It’s also touring with cast members Emma Watson and Katie Leung along with helmer Mike Newell this week in Japan, which turned in the highest foreign total for “Azkaban” with $121 million, followed by $79 million in the U.K.

Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, prexy of distribution for Warner Bros. Intl., believes the fourth pic’s darker tone and its 12A certificate for the U.K. –kids under 12 must be accompanied by an adult — won’t hurt its overall appeal. “Over the course of the three pictures, the audience has been aging up along with the cast,” she noted.

Sue Kroll, president of marketing for Warner Intl., said the key task has always been to appeal first and foremost to the core fan base and then broaden the target from there. Distrib has amped up its campaign via MTV to reach the teen audience and emphasized the tri-wizard tournament, the angst-ridden Yule Ball and the return of Lord Voldemort.

“As the core fans mature, we adjust our marketing strategy accordingly,” Kroll added. “The campaign embraces the darker storyline and especially highlights the more extreme action and adventure that the film offers. The fact that Harry has a crush and Hermione has a prom date — they are real teenagers now — is used to appeal to the target.”

Both domestic and foreign grosses have declined slightly for each version. The first “Potter” pic grossed $318 million Stateside and $656 million foreign four years ago; in 2002, “The Chamber of Secrets” took in $262 million in the U.S. and $617 million offshore; and “The Prisoner of Azkaban” grossed $249 million domestically and $543 million foreign.

In anticipation of “Harry,” rivals tiptoed around the franchise in foreign markets, opting for targeted launches and avoiding head-to-head clashes such as BVI’s openings of “Chicken Little” in Holland, Portugal and Spain and Sony’s launch of “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” in Hong Kong, New Zealand, Russia and Spain. “Chicken Little” has cumed $16 million overseas, “Emily Rose” $15 million.

In limited release Stateside, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Breakfast on Pluto,” a Neil Jordan-helmed pic about a transvestite growing up during the Northern Ireland conflict, bows on three screens in New York before hitting L.A. in early December.

Also debuting in limited release, though not for the first time, is “Cinderella Man.” U is putting the pic on five screens in New York, L.A. and Toronto as it attempts to build buzz for awards season. WIP’s “Good Night, and Good Luck” gets a bump this weekend, going up from 668 to 803. Indie’s suicide bomber drama “Paradise Now” adds 20 plays, hitting 65.

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