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'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' spins magic

Theaters sell out as fans swarm to see the sixth installment, which rings in $22.2 million in midnight ticket sales, shattering 'Dark Knight's' record.

July 16, 2009|Yvonne Villarreal and Ben Fritz

They didn't just show up to see a movie, they wanted to live it -- and wear it.

Some of the muggles came in maroon-striped scarves and school-uniform neckties; others donned capes and stuffed pillows under their shirts to give them the girth of a plump wizard. Many sported wigs, gray sweaters (despite the stifling heat), tube socks and, oh yes, wire-rimmed glasses. Lots and lots of wire-rimmed glasses.

The witching-hour spectacle played out at theaters across the Southland as thousands of "Harry Potter" fans stayed up late on Tuesday night so they could be among the first to see the sixth installment in the most magical of Hollywood franchises. "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" sold out more than 4,500 midnight showings and was poised to break the box-office record for a Wednesday opening.

"I've been waiting for this day for months," said Naomi Gonzales, 21, of Sylmar, who purchased tickets for the 12:55 a.m. showing at Universal CityWalk with her cousin. "There was no way I was going to wait. Midnight was the only option. Who needs sleep? Harry Potter is my caffeine."

At the AMC CityWalk Stadium, all six showings of the film were sold out. The two midnight showings at Mann Theatres in Hollywood? Sold out. That was the story far and wide; at one point, Fandango was selling eight tickets per second, according to the website.

The generally well-reviewed film seems to have left fans spellbound. It brought in $22.2 million in midnight ticket sales at 3,003 locations -- shattering last year's record $18.5-million midnight earnings of another Warner Bros.' blockbuster, "The Dark Knight." According to several people with access to box office data, matinees were extremely strong but evening shows slowed a bit, putting the new "Potter" movie on track to likely gross just under $60 million on its opening day. That means it will likely just miss out on beating the Wednesday record of $62 million set by "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" on its opening day last month.

Several Hollywood executives who closely track box office returns said the latest "Harry Potter" film will likely earn around $200 million in the U.S. and Canada and as much or more from international markets by Sunday.

It's certain to make more than its predecessor "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which two years ago sold a total of $292 million in tickets domestically and $938 million worldwide.

Camille Soroudi, 18, and her friends London Venturelli, 19, and Gaby Witte, 18, arrived for the 12:15 a.m. show at CityWalk dressed as Gryffindor and Slytherin students. Soroudi was anxious for what she was about to see on screen.

"It better live up to the book," said Soroudi of Tarzana, who with her friends started a Harry Potter club at Brentwood High School when they were students there. "I don't want it to be like 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.' If you're going to bring the book to the big screen, do it right. They should have brought [director] Chris Columbus back."

The darker sixth installment in the Potter franchise, which finds the Death Eaters, mobilized by the return of Harry's antagonist Lord Voldemort, threatening Hogwarts and the wizarding world, is directed by David Yates, who did the previous film and is at work on the final two installments.

There was fan outrage last year when Warner Bros. abruptly postponed the release of "Half-Blood Prince" for eight months to maximize its marketplace position, and many wondered if the delay would adversely affect box office returns.

But Potter-mania via cyberspace didn't end with online ticket purchasing. Fans of the boy wizard and his sidekicks have made "Harry Potter" a top 10 "trending topic" on Twitter since July 13. As midnight neared Tuesday, many tweets buzzed with anticipation.

Around 6 p.m. PDT, "Erickaholic" wrote: "Waiting in line for the harry potter premierrr :)"

"Bamberella" wrote: "Harry Potter tonight . . . not an avid book reader but fan enough to go to the midnight showing. Boo ya!"

Others, like "PhantomWho," planned to tweet their thoughts of the movie as they watched it.

And many expressed their plans to watch Harry, his sidekick Ron and brainy gal pal Hermione more than once.

"Are you kidding?" said Lauren Poissant, 19, of Long Beach, who came dressed as Rubeus Hagrid and lugged along an egg (made of papier-mache) housing the baby dragon Norbert. "I'm definitely going to see it more than once. It's just that kind of movie."

For some, once the 2 1/2-hour film came to an end, the spell wore off and reality set in again.

Kristine Espinoza, 19, of Carson left the screening feeling "really incomplete" for two reasons: she had an 8 a.m. physics class in a few hours, and the end of the film meant the waiting process for the next cinematic chapter had just begun.

"I'm eager for the next one to come out," said Espinoza, who didn't make it home until 4 a.m. "I don't know when it will come out . . . but I can only hope they don't push back the release of that one."

Others were still caught up in the magic.

"I thought it was really, really, really, really good," Poissant said, listing her favorite scenes. "Stuff was altered. Some scenes were added . . . but, overall, it was excellent. I liked it more than the last film, for sure . . . I could have watched it for another hour."

--

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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