Box Office Guru Preview: Prince's Magic to Reign Over Multiplexes

Potter aims to tame Bruno, Ice Age and Transformers.

by | July 16, 2009 | Comments

All eyes are on those teen wizards. After a two-year wait, fans are finally getting their chance to return to Hogwarts for another year of magical fun with the Wednesday launch of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth installment in the wildly successful eight-film fantasy series. No studio has dared to challenge Warner Bros. this weekend as the sequel stands as the only new wide release on the marquees. Following the last two PG-13 installments, Prince carries a more commercially-friendly PG rating and features more humor and romance which could allow the pic to reach a more mainstream audience and score points with younger females.

The last film in the lucrative series was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which was released in a similar way, on a Wednesday in July while kids are on summer vacation. That PG-13 installment bowed to $44.2M on its opening day (including $12M from post-midnight shows) ahead of a massive $139.7M five-day debut including $77.1M across the Friday-to-Sunday span. The Wednesday-Thursday portion accounted for 45% of the five-day take. Phoenix went on to conjure up a sensational $292M domestically and $938M worldwide. If the early numbers are any indication, Prince will fly even higher.

Half-Blood Prince has already started breaking records with its estimated $22.2M in post-midnight shows at 3,003 theaters on Tuesday night. That beat by a healthy 20% the record set one year ago by the studio’s own The Dark Knight which banked $18.5M on a late Thursday night ahead of its Friday opening day which reached a record $67.2M. Last month’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen set the old record for the biggest Tuesday night post-midnight bow with $16M. Prince beat that hands down by 39% thanks to the intense upfront demand. On Wednesday morning, the new Potter officially opened in 4,275 locations and will expand slightly on Friday to 4,325 sites making it the third widest launch in history after Dark Knight (4,366) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (4,362).

The studio has generally kept a year-and-a-half gap in between the installments but Prince, originally set for a November 21, 2008 launch, was pushed back to July 2009 making it a full two-year wait for fans. The increased anticipation is leading to more business for the first shows and the opening day, although it could have a negative impact on the long-term situation if more of the total demand is soaked up in the beginning. Phoenix and 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire finished with just over $290M each.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe

The Harry Potter franchise has shown remarkable durability over the course of the decade. Prince is the sixth film in less than eight years yet the property remains as relevant as ever. Movie ticket prices have risen dramatically over the years (29% since the first flick) but each film has consistently been able to sell at least 40 million tickets. Domestic admissions for the series include 56 million for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 45 million for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 40 million for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 45 million for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and 42 million for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Globally, the series has grossed a jaw-dropping $4.5 billion with each pic averaging a stunning $896M with 68.5% coming from outside of North America.

Reviews have been dazzling for Half-Blood Prince which like Phoenix was directed by David Yates who will also helm the final two pics as well. While the film doesn’t offer too much to bring in new fans, the added anticipation has generated a thirst that might lead to more repeat business which could be the key to becoming only the second film in the series to break the triple-century mark. Since the new Transformers pic still has a lock on most IMAX screens, Prince‘s large-format version will not reach most of the country until July 29 which should help keep fans coming back for more.

Competition will barely be a factor for the teen wizard. Nothing else looks strong enough to break $20M this weekend meaning Prince could open against the lowest gross for a number two film that any Potter adventure has ever faced. Warner Bros. will need some huge bags to take away all the cash this weekend. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince might end up with about $91M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and a scorching $171M over five days.

Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, and Daniel Radcliffe in Half-Blood Prince

Last weekend, Universal’s raunchy mockumentary Brüno crashed into first place. However, its mammoth 39% Friday-to-Saturday tumble suggests that true fans have already seen the film and that word-of-mouth spreading to the curious is pretty bad. Last summer, Sex and the City (another R-rated comedy with a built-in base of fans) also saw a sensational Friday start only to collapse by 34% on Saturday. It dropped 63% on the second weekend, though its overall $152.6M total was well ahead of expectations. This weekend, Brüno should take a big step back and could decline by 60% to around $12M. That would give the Austrian fashionista $53M in ten days.

Fox will see some of its family audience for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs fly away to see Harry and his wand-waving friends this weekend. But the marketplace should expand enough to allow both to breathe, especially since so many will see Prince before the weekend starts. Two years ago, Pixar’s Ratatouille dropped by just 38% in its third frame when Order of the Phoenix opened against it – the exact same decline as in the previous frame. The Ice Age flick could drop by 35% this weekend to roughly $18M and spend its third consecutive weekend in second place. That would boost the 19-day cume to $152M keeping it even with the gross of its predecessor Ice Age: The Meltdown over the same amount of time.

The Autobots are ready to vault past the $350M mark by Friday. Half-Blood Prince will provide some level of competition to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but isn’t necessarily a direct threat. A 45% drop could occur giving Paramount about $13M for the frame and lift the total to a stellar $363M.

LAST YEAR: Christian, Heath, and gang pulled off the biggest box office heist in history with the eye-popping $158.4M opening weekend for The Dark Knight, the biggest in movie history. The Warner Bros. mega-smash went on to gross $533.3M in North America for the second largest domestic tally ever (when not factoring in ticket price increases) trailing just Titanic‘s $600.8M. Knight also hauled in an additional $469M overseas for a stunning $1 billion global gross – the fourth best ever after Titanic, LOTR: The Return of the King, and POTC: Dead Man’s Chest. Holding its own was the musical Mamma Mia! which played to a more female crowd bowing to a solid $27.8M against the Batsequel. The Universal release enjoyed good legs reaching $144.1M in North America.. But the ABBAfest played like an action tentpole overseas scoring an amazing $458M (76% of the global tally) making it the third biggest international grosser of 2008 trailing just the Indiana Jones and Batman sequels. Rounding out the top five were Hancock with $14M, Journey to the Center of the Earth with $12.3M, and Hellboy II with $10.1M, tumbling 71% from its debut frame.

Author: Gitesh Pandya,