Warner Bros. said Thursday that a 3D, 4K restoration of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” will be among the first films to hit re-opening Chinese cinemas as they attempt to pull in audiences after weeks of coronavirus closures.
The studio announced the news with a new illustrated poster featuring Hedwig swooping in with Harry’s acceptance letter addressed in green ink, accompanied by the tagline: “Magic is coming.” An official release date has yet to be announced, but it is listed as April 30 on the generally reliable ticketing app Maoyan. This would position the film to draw in crowds over the May 1 Labor Day holiday, typically one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Chinese fans have exploded with excitement online. “Is this for real??” a disbelieving commenter on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform said, while another squealed: “Put out all eight of them at once; I’ll just live in the cinemas!”
Many expressed their excitement that they’d get to experience an old classic with modern bells and whistles. “With the 4K restoration and the 3D, this will be like a whole new film. Even if you’ve seen ‘Harry Potter’ already in theaters, this will be an unprecedented new experience,” one fan said.
The news comes as China attempts to revive its struggling exhibition sector in the wake of mass, nation-wide closures in late January to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
A handful of Chinese cinemas have already attempted soft re-opens, but so far, most have seen almost no business. Most of them are in the far western Xinjiang region, where there have been no new confirmed cases of the virus for weeks.
But from the capital of Beijing to the southwestern province of Yunnan, cinemas elsewhere in China are now preparing to re-open. Many are located in regions where authorities this week broadly authorized service sector and entertainment venues to resume business, and are merely awaiting a specific governmental approval of their health precaution measures to open doors.
“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” made just RMB56 million — less than $7.8 million in today’s dollars — in China in 2002. But unlike “Star Wars,” the franchise has a wide fanbase in China, where people grew up alongside the release of the books and later films.
The fanbase’s financial might is a bit less visible than that of Marvel’s, since the “Potter” films hit largely during the 2000s, an earlier time when the now mighty Chinese box office was less developed.
The spin-off “Fantastic Beasts” films starring Eddie Redmayne received a lukewarm reception in the Middle Kingdom, with 2016’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” earning $86 million and the more poorly reviewed “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” grossing a tepid $57.3 million in 2018.
Putting the original “Potter” films back in Chinese theaters will revive enthusiasm for the franchise in the world’s second-largest film market, just in time for the third “Fantastic Beasts” movie, which was originally scheduled to debut in 2021 before the coronavirus stalled production.
Warner Bros. has not yet responded to request for comment by press time, and thus has not confirmed whether the studio will receive its usual 25% cut of Chinese box office receipts from the screening.
Other Chinese distributors such as Road Pictures, the Beijing-based firm behind “Capernaum,” have foregone their own profits, essentially donating their share to cinemas.