×

Harry Potter’s last hurrah

Execs eye franchise's beginning, end

As the “Harry Potter” franchise heads into its final lap, the billions generated by films, ancillary and merchandising will eventually dwindle for Warners. As the studio mulls options for new franchise possibilities, recently retired studio topper Alan Horn talked to Variety about what it took to make “Potter” the biggest film franchise ever, and Warner marketing topper Sue Kroll spoke about her approach to marketing the very last pic in the series.

Key to bringing J.K. Rowling’s vision to the bigscreen were British producer David Heyman, who persuaded Warners to acquire the rights to the first four books, and the Warners execs at the time, who invested in what was then far from a sure bet. Though the books were big bestsellers, the kid actors were unknown, and some thought the themes might be too British.

Heyman discovered the first book, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” a few months after it was published in 1997 and persuaded the studio to acquire the rights for the first four books just before Bob Daly and Terry Semel departed as studio chiefs, replaced by Barry Meyer and Horn. Horn credits studio exec Lionel Wigram as “the unsung hero” who worked through a myriad of details.

Popular on Variety

“When I got in, there were endless discussions about production design, marketing, music,” Horn recalls. “The marketing was tough because our actors weren’t stars at that point like Tom Cruise or Will Smith, so it was incumbent on us to convince the fans of the books that we would be respectful and deliver on the promise of what they had loved in the books.”

Horn believes it was particularly crucial to consult with Rowling to get the story right. “I always made it clear that she was the most important fan,” he adds.

Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were cast in 2000, and the first film, written by Steve Kloves and directed by Chris Columbus, opened in November 2001.

Conversely, the last film, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” bowing today, is the very definition of a sure bet.

Horn, who departed Warners in April, attended both preems in London and New York.

“As you can imagine, it’s kind of sad in some respects to see it coming to an end, but it’s also been really gratifying to have done eight films and kept the same cast together,” he muses.”We’ve had four amazing directors — Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell and David Yates — so it’s been kind of like a giant relay race.”

The Potter franchise has been the ultimate in reliability for Warner Bros., with the first seven films grossing $6.4 billion worldwide.

“We are in a wonderful position in that the ‘Harry Potter’ films are truly beloved and widely anticipated by audiences around the world,” acknowledges Kroll.

“The marketing campaign had to engage and inspire audiences and not only prepare them for this final film but remind them of what they’ve loved about Harry Potter over these 10 years,” she says. “To that end, we created a pervasive advertising, publicity and online campaign, complete with a robust content strategy, that reminded audiences everywhere of the true magic that is unique to the world of Harry Potter.”

“The challenges in marketing the epic conclusion to the series had more to do with sustaining an intense level of interest and building on it over these last few months,” says Kroll.

The campaign is aimed at merging the nostalgia for the previous seven films with the unknown as main characters Harry, Ron and Hermione face the evil forces of Lord Voldemort. The marketing presumes that anyone who doesn’t know about Harry, Voldemort and Hogwarts is probably not going to purchase a ticket for “Part 2.”

The marketing campaign revved in late spring with the tagline “It all ends.” Kroll says the phrase is meant to work on several levels. “‘It all ends’ is an emphatic and memorable reminder about not only the end of the film series but the ultimate battle between good and evil,” she says.

More Film

  • Honest Candidate

    Korea Box Office: ‘Honest Candidate’ Wins Weekend as ‘Parasite’ Returns to Chart

    Opening on Wednesday (Feb. 12), comedy “Honest Candidate” topped the South Korean box office, ahead of “Little Women” and Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” which returned to the charts eight months after its original release. “Candidate” earned $6.52 million from 909,000 admissions over five days. Directed by Chang You-jeong (“Finding Mr. Destiny”), “Candidate” is the story of [...]

  • Sophia Loren

    Netflix Takes Global Rights to Sophia Loren's First Feature Film in a Decade

    Netflix has acquired global rights to drama “The Life Ahead,” which marks Sophia Loren’s return in front of the camera for a feature film after a decade. Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, “Life Ahead” sees the iconic Italian Oscar winner playing Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who forges a bond with a 12-year-old Senegalese [...]

  • The Book of Sun

    Oliver Stone to Head Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Festival Jury, Lineup Announced

    Oliver Stone will preside over the main jury of Saudi Arabia’s nascent Red Sea International Film Festival, which has unveiled its inaugural lineup. The fest will feature the Middle East premiere of Harvey Weinstein-inspired workplace abuse drama “The Assistant” amid a fresh mix of feature films and docs from Europe, the U.S., Asia and Africa [...]

  • Aerial View of Jiangxia temporary hospital

    Virus Kills Chinese Film Director and Family in Wuhan

    A Chinese film director and his entire family have died from the novel coronavirus in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Chang Kai, a film director and an external communications officer at a Hubei Film Studio subsidiary, died in hospital on Feb. 14 from the virus now called COVID-19, according to a statement from the [...]

  • Remi Bonhomme

    Marrakech Film Festival Taps Cannes Exec Remi Bonhomme as Artistic Director

    Remi Bonhomme, a leading force behind Cannes’ Critics Week, has been appointed artistic director of the Marrakech Film Festival and its industry conference, the Atlas Workshops. In recent years, Bonhomme successfully headed the Atlas Workshops, a platform dedicated to supporting the cinema of the African continent and the Arab world, where he was also part [...]

  • A Stasi Comedy

    Picture Tree Intl. Picks Up Leander Haussmann's 'A Stasi Comedy' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Berlin-based Picture Tree International (PTI) has acquired global sales rights to Leander Haussmann’s highly anticipated East German laffer “A Stasi Comedy.” Set in the early 1980s, the film centers on East Germany’s infamous state security service, the Staatssicherheitsdienst or Stasi, and young agent Ludger, played by David Kross (“Balloon,” “The Reader”), who is sent to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content