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'Harry Potter' may work its magic at box office and break records

The eighth and final installment in the series, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2,' opens Friday, and many showings are already sold out. Its weekend take could eclipse the $158.4-million mark set by 'The Dark Knight' in 2008.

July 15, 2011|By Ben Fritz and Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times
  • Aylia Coldwell, 22, dressed as the cover of a Potter book, and Sienna Beckman, 21, wait outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Aylia Coldwell, 22, dressed as the cover of a Potter book, and Sienna Beckman,… (Mel Melcon, Los Angeles…)

She had steamed the wrinkles out of her wizard robe. The butterbeer, based on the house drink at Hogsmeade, was brewing. And she had reserved her apartment building's screening room to get pumped by watching the boy wizard's last two big-screen adventures.

Celeste Perez was as ready as she could be for the end of "Harry Potter." The 24-year-old resident of downtown L.A. has been a fan since 1998, when anEnglish teacher sneaked her a copy of the first book in the series about an orphan who discovers he has magic powers, which was banned at her Christian school.

When "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2" opens in theaters Friday, it will mark the end not just of the most successful film franchise in modern Hollywood, but the most impactful piece of pop culture for a generation.

"This is the end of my childhood," Perez said while preparing for a Thursday night party with friends, after which they would attend a midnight screening of the film. "It's like, 'Now what's left for me? What can I cherish as much?'"

The combination ofsadness and enthusiasm felt by Perez and millions of fans like her is the reason Hollywood is expecting box office records to fall this weekend, when the film, a fast-moving, 130-minute battle to the death between Harry Potter and his evil nemesis, Lord Voldemort, opens in theaters. Already, more than 10,000 midnight Friday shows and nearly every Imax screening through Saturday have sold out, giving the film an estimated $45-million box office Thursday before the theater doors opened — more than most movies gross their entire first weekend.

The movie is not only getting the best reviews in the series, but it's also the first that will benefit from higher-priced 3-D tickets. As a result, the $158.4-million record for a three-day domestic opening, held by 2008's "The Dark Knight," also from Warner Bros., is in jeopardy.

"With the 3-D and the huge sense of urgency among fans to be the first to see this film, it has as good a shot as you can have to break the record," said Vincent Bruzzese, president of the worldwide motion picture group for research firm Ipsos OTX.

And even though the movie is the last in the series — author J.K. Rowling has said she has no plans to write more "Harry Potter" novels — Warner and other corporate partners hope to keep the cash registers ringing well into the future with the sale of toys, DVDs, exhibitions, digital media and theme parks.

Although the first novel, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," was published only in 1997 and the first film came out in 2001, the series is thoroughly embedded in the culture. Recent surveys conducted by the market research firm E-Poll on top entertainment brands such as Batman, "Star Trek" and the "Twilight" vampire series ranked Potter second among all audiences in awareness and appeal (behind the much older "Star Wars") and first among people ages 13 to 24. On the question of whether people want to buy new products related to the brand, Potter is a decisive No. 1.

"That data is code-word for 'We still want more,'" said Gerry Philpott, chief executive of E-Poll.

Jesse Martinez andFabian Rodriguez are among those who want more. The two teens took a morning bus from Downey to Hollywood on Thursday to be the first waiting outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre for a midnight screening. Jesse, 17, was dressed like Harry Potter with round glasses, a cloak, a sweater and a self-drawn lightning bolt on his forehead. He sipped a caffeinated drink to keep awake. A Starbucks barista had aptly written his name as Harry Potter on the cup.

"I wouldn't doubt it if I cried tonight, honestly," Jesse said. "But I'll keep up with the actors, and I already bought tickets to the Orlando theme park."

In downtown Chicago, 21-year-old Adel Johnson was camped outside a multiplex Thursday afternoon with her 18-year-old sister Tess. They were watching previous "Harry Potter" movies on a laptop while waiting for a midnight screening. They also had tickets to see the movie two more times over the weekend.

"I've had new 'Harry Potter' things to look forward to since I was 8," said Adel, who recently graduated from Columbia College. "It's kind of ridiculous how you feel like you've insinuated yourself [into] the story. You've grown up with them, and now you're matriculating with them."

Although its popularity is anchored in Rowling's vivid characters and inventive milieu — the books have sold more than 450 million copies to date — the "Harry Potter" franchise also has benefited from timing, experts say.

"The book featured kids on their own getting very little help from adults — and it came out right as the Internet age was taking hold," said Karen Sternheimer, a sociology professor at USC who has included "Harry Potter" books on her syllabi. "With the Internet, communities can be formed with fans, and the story continues to live on."

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