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Will knowing the ending keep `Harry' fans from theaters?

Warner says it's not worried the last book will deter audiences.

June 20, 2007|Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writer

Warner Bros., the studio behind the "Harry Potter" blockbusters, could find itself in an awkward position when author J.K. Rowling lets the black cat out of the bag next month about the ultimate fate of her characters.

Ten days after the fifth installment, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," hits theaters July 11, the world will know what happens to the bespectacled boy wizard and the rest of his Hogwarts gang with the release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," Rowling's seventh and final book in the series.

Last year Rowling revealed in interviews that she would kill off two characters and that one character "got a reprieve," never acknowledging whether Harry is among them. Potter fans have been rigorously debating on websites whether the British author will dare terminate the beloved star of what has become the biggest-selling series in literary history.

Warner doesn't expect any spoilers to hurt box-office sales of its upcoming film. Indeed, the flurry of publicity surrounding the release of a new movie and book could feed sales for both of them.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 21, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 83 words Type of Material: Correction
Harry Potter: A chart in the Business section on Wednesday accompanying an article on Harry Potter books and movies gave an incomplete count of the films' global box office. The figures included only the foreign box office and excluded the U.S. totals. The worldwide box-office totals are: "The Sorcerer's Stone," $974.1 million (not $656.5 million); "The Chamber of Secrets," $878.6 million (not $616.7 million); "The Prisoner of Azkaban," $795.6 million (not $546.1 million); and "The Goblet of Fire," $894.7 million (not $604.7 million).

But there are two "Harry Potter" sequels to go over the next three years. Could knowing how it all ends dissuade moviegoers from turning out to see them?

Warner President Alan Horn said he wasn't worried.

"Whatever happens to Harry Potter, I would not anticipate it hurting the movie or future movies in any way," he said.

Horn said that four months before the fourth film, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" was released in 2005, moviegoers had already learned in Rowling's sixth book that Albus Dumbledore -- headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry -- had died.

"And he was a beloved character," Horn said.

Horn also noted that James Cameron's 1997 "Titanic" was a blockbuster even though it was well known that the luxury liner sank, killing most of its passengers. And, Horn said, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" knew the ending of the trilogy but still turned out in force for the films.

"Harry Potter" has been a global juggernaut for the Burbank studio. Worldwide, the first four movies have grossed $3.5 billion and sold 167 million DVD and VHS units.

Warner and parent Time Warner Inc. also amassed hundreds of millions more in profit from television, video game and merchandising sales, such as a Lego Hogwarts Castle that retails at $89.99. Three weeks ago, Warner struck a major licensing deal with Universal Orlando Resort for a $200 million-plus Harry Potter theme park attraction in Florida that is expected to open in late 2009.

According to Rowling's U.S. publisher, Scholastic Inc., the books have sold 325 million copies in 200 countries in 65 languages. Of that total, 54.5 million were sold in the U.S. alone. The initial release of Rowling's upcoming book in the U.S. is 12 million copies -- the largest first printing in publishing history.

Warner is laying plans for its final two films. Horn said that "Harry Potter" star Daniel Radcliffe, who started the series at 11 and turns 18 next month, is committed to continuing in his role.

The sixth "Potter" is set to begin production in September for release in November 2008. The seventh film is scheduled for theaters in either the summer or the fall of 2010.

Daun Taubin, Warner's domestic marketing president, said that though devoted Potter fans, including her 15-year-old daughter, are sad that Rowling's popular fantasy stories are coming to an end, they can take solace that there's life beyond the books.

"The movies allow the stories to live on," Taubin said. "So fans can relive the experience in a different way."

Diane Nelson, who has overseen "Harry Potter" brand management at Warner for the last eight years, said fans have always known much of the story lines and which characters die before they've seen the screen version, and that hasn't lessened their enthusiasm for the movies.

She contends that the books enhance the film franchise and Harry's popularity. A 2004 study that a Warner unit commissioned surveying 670 children found that 97% had seen at least one "Harry Potter" film.

"Fans get to enjoy the stories in their imaginations first and then they get to see them in the movie theater," Nelson said.

In the past, Rowling has offed key characters, including Hufflepuff Quidditch captain Cedric Diggory and Sirius Black of the once-notable Wizard family. Many readers were upset about Dumbledore's death scene atop the Astronomy Tower, with some devotees still insisting that he may have faked his own death and will return in the final book.

As for Harry himself, Rowling has not said whether he will survive.

At MuggleNet, a website devoted to all things Harry Potter, more than 42,250 messages have been posted dissecting the final novel. More than 1,100 messages alone have been posted under the discussion titled "Will Harry die in Deathly Hallows?"

The speculation tackles every possible scenario -- Harry dying, Harry coming back, Harry losing his powers, Harry marrying Ginny.

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