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'Harry Potter' charms the box office

'Half-Blood Prince,' the sixth installment in the film series, has one of the largest starts of all time, earning $396.7 million worldwide in its first five days.

July 20, 2009|Ben Fritz

After muggles packed the midnight shows, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" quickly slowed down at the box office and resembled, well, the last "Potter" movie.

The sixth film in the Warner Bros. series based on the bestselling books sold a studio-estimated $159.7 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada from Wednesday through Sunday, exactly $20 million more than the last installment, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," did in its first five days in July 2007.

About $11 million of that difference can be attributed to the nearly 8% rise in ticket prices from 2007, according to data from the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. The other $9 million came from midnight shows Wednesday, when "Half-Blood Prince" earned $22.2 million. "Order of the Phoenix," by contrast, earned $12 million from midnight shows when it also debuted on a Wednesday.

Opening midnight shows for "Half-Blood Prince" were so huge that they blew away the record of $18.5 million set by last summer's "The Dark Knight." As a result, it seemed very possible that the new "Potter" film could topple the records for the best Wednesday opening as well as for the biggest five-day gross for a film debuting on a Wednesday, which were set by "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" last month.

By that evening, however, the movie's momentum slowed, and it was clear that no more records would be smashed. Warner Bros.' $155-million investment in worldwide marketing and distribution had essentially bought the same-size audience as the last movie, along with some more of the most ardent fans willing to wait in line for the first shows.

"The same kids who were begging their parents to let them see the first ['Potter' movie] are now teenagers driving themselves to the midnight shows," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

He added that the studio's decision to delay the movie's release from November probably heightened anticipation for the earliest showings.

Ticket sales for "Half-Blood Prince" were similarly strong overseas, where it earned $237 million in 54 foreign territories. Although comparisons are difficult because of varying exchange rates and the mix of countries where movies open, it's clearly one of the biggest international starts of all time.

Comparing only the same 54 territories, 2007's "Order of the Phoenix" grossed $210 million overseas, according to Warner Bros. The new movie made about 13% more, almost the exact rise it experienced domestically.

With a huge, $396.7-million five-day opening worldwide, "Half-Blood Prince" is well on its way to being another "Potter" hit for Warner Bros. Audiences reacted well, giving it an average grade of "A-," according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Given how closely the latest "Potter" film is tracking the opening of "Order of the Phoenix," the new movie will probably end up close to its predecessor's final ticket sales: $292 million domestically and $646.2 million overseas.

Since studios keep about half of the money their movies make at the box office (the rest stays with theaters), Warner Bros. has a good shot at recouping the $250 million it paid for production as well as the marketing and distribution costs for "Half-Blood Prince." After the film's theatrical run ends, revenue from DVDs and pay-per-view are highly likely to prove very profitable.

No other new movies dared challenge "Potter" this weekend, but Fox Searchlight's "(500) Days of Summer" had a fantastic start at 27 theaters in 10 cities. The indie romantic comedy sold $837,500 worth of tickets, giving it a strong average of $31,000 at each location. According to Sheila DeLoach, senior vice president of distribution for Fox Searchlight, the picture sold out most shows at its four theaters in Los Angeles.

It was a terrible second weekend for "Bruno," which saw ticket sales plummet 73% in the face of strongly negative audience reactions. That's the biggest such drop for any movie so far this year.

After 10 days at the box office, the second big-screen Sacha Baron Cohen comedy has grossed $49.6 million domestically and $46 million overseas. It will probably gross only about half of the $261.6 million that his first movie, "Borat," made worldwide in 2006.





Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:

*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Percent Total Days in age change -- (studio) (millions) From (millions) release last weekend 1 Harry Potter and the $79.5 NA $159.7 5 -- Half-Blood Prince -- (Warner Bros.) 2 Ice Age: Dawn of the $17.7 -36% $152 19 Dinosaurs -- (Fox) 3 Transformers: Revenge $13.8 -43% $363.9 26 -- of the Fallen -- (Paramount) 4 Bruno $8.4 -73% $49.6 10 -- (Universal/Media Rights Capital) 5 The Hangover $8.3 -16% $235.9 45 -- (Warner Bros./Legendary) 6 The Proposal $8.3 -22% $128.1 31 -- (Disney) 7 Public Enemies $7.6 -45% $79.5 19 -- (Universal/Relativity) 8 Up $3.1 -33% $279.6 52 -- (Disney) 9 My Sister's Keeper $2.8 -34% $41.5 24 -- (Warner Bros./New Line) 10 I Love You, Beth Cooper $2.7 -46% $10.3 10 -- (Fox) *--*


Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $162 -38% $5.98 +10% *--*

Sources: Times research and Box Office

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