Talk about a disappearing act: Harry Potter just vanished from the 2008 movie schedule.
Warner Bros. shocked fans around the globe Thursday when it announced that "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth installment in the massively successful film franchise about a young wizard and his friends, would not hit theaters in November as planned. The film will instead be delayed eight months and arrive on July 17, according to Alan Horn, Warner Bros. president and chief operating officer.
The postponement was made to exploit the "relative dearth" of major summer blockbusters next year in the wake of the recent writers strike, Horn said. He also pointed to last year's summer success, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which grossed $292 million in the U.S. after its July 11 release. That was the second-highest total of any of the Potter films, behind only the first movie in 2001.
"There is no production delay or production consideration. . . . It feels like we have an opportunity in the summer," Horn said.
He added that he had seen the film, which is in the final production stages, and that it would "absolutely have been ready" by November. He characterized the shift as a proactive business move, not a retreat. "The question we asked is, what is best for this movie."
But any scheduling change for a blockbuster prompts intense scrutiny in Hollywood. There was speculation Thursday that the delayed release reflects a problem with the London-based production or with another upcoming film in Warner's schedule. The major Warner film already scheduled for next summer is "Terminator Salvation," a darker re-boot of the killer-robot franchise, which stars Christian Bale. That movie is now shooting in New Mexico.
Warner currently is riding high with "The Dark Knight," the Batman film that also stars Bale. The grim super-hero movie has taken in $452 million in the U.S. since its July 18 release, making it the second-highest grossing film ever.
To some degree, that success motivated Warner to shift "Half-Blood Prince," Horn said. The film will now hit theaters the same midsummer weekend that "Dark Knight" was released this year. Horn said the young, core Potter audience would be out of school and give the film a longer theatrical life. It will now open opposite Universal's special-effects comedy "Land of the Lost," which stars Will Ferrell. But Horn said there was nothing next year compared to this summer's especially dense slate of big-budget releases.
The shift in schedule is already roiling Potter fans, who are among the most intense devotees in contemporary pop culture. Petitions were circulating, rumors were flying and angry screeds were being posted on Internet sites within minutes of the Thursday announcement. A July 2009 release means there will be a two-year gap between the film adaptations of books five and six in J.K. Rowling's series. The new opening date, however, would cut the waiting time between "Half-Blood Prince" and the final two movies, which will be shot next year. The final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," will be split into two films, scheduled for November 2010 and summer 2011.
Horn acknowledged that the studio would have to pacify fans in the months to come.
"We would never do anything to hurt one of the movies or the series. We love our fans."