There was little doubt that when the "Harry Potter" franchise finally came to a close after a decade-long presence at the multiplex, it would do so in epically lucrative fashion. But only when "Deathly Hallows, Part 2" actually began lighting up screens last Thursday at midnight did the true extent of its box-office power become clear: The film raked in a record $43.5 million at those early screenings and ended up shattering the three-day opening record of "The Dark Knight."
"While I assumed it would have the best 'Harry Potter' debut of all time, I wasn't quite sold on the fact that it could eclipse the 'Dark Knight' record, as none of the previous films, although highly successful, have ever approached that staggering number, despite having one of the most rabid fanbases filmdom has ever seen," said Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations. "This was monumental, as it seems everyone wanted to be a part of the discussion, everyone wanted to say goodbye to dear friends, and everyone wanted to experience the magic on the big screen one more time."
But not everyone wanted that magical experience in 3-D. While "Deathly Hallows, Part 2" benefited from the largest 3-D launch ever, according to Box Office Mojo, a majority of ticket buyers choose 2-D screenings, with just 43 percent of its total gross coming from 3-D screenings ("Transformers: Dark of the Moon," by comparison, earned 60 percent of its opening gross from 3-D showings). So, although "Deathly Hallows, Part 2" opening marks the second-biggest 3-D opening after "Alice in Wonderland," the last "Potter" film wasn't a 3-D must-see — it was a pop-culture must-see.
But insiders hardly predicted how intense the get-out-to-the-theater urge would be. Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com, pointed at social-networking sites as the key factor that raised awareness and drove ticket sales in the days leading up to release. The franchise's Facebook page added 870,000 new "likes" last week and Twitter registered more than 225,000 tweets in that time frame. "It clearly showed that even casual fans of the series were excited about the last installment," he said. "You can't break records with just die-hard fans — you have to expand the base. That's exactly what 'Part 2' did."
Just don't expect it to do what "Avatar" did. James Cameron's sci-fi flick built slowly and stayed at the top of the box office for weeks. "Deathly Hallows, Part 2," by contrast, experienced a hefty, 53 percent drop from Friday to Saturday, showing the film, like so many blockbusters before it, was a frontloaded theatrical event. While it will safely become the biggest movie of the summer, these wizards won't be able to compete with Cameron's big blue aliens, who drove "Avatar" to $2.8 billion worldwide.
"While the global grosses of 'Avatar' and 'Titanic' will likely be out of reach, expect 'Deathly Hallows, Part 2' to become the third-highest grossing movie ever once it exits theaters, and surpasses 'Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,' which hauled in $1.1 billion worldwide, " Bock said.
"Harry Potter," then, is on the verge of unseating "Star Wars" to become the most lucrative franchise in movie history. While some franchises struggle to maintain early success (see this summer's "Transformers" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" films), "Potter" has had no such problems. The example that Warner Bros. has set with its boy wizard is one that other studios wrapping up franchises would be wise to follow.
" 'Potter' fans grew up and didn't abandon the series, but that could happen with 'Twilight,' " Contrino said. "You have to mature at the same pace as your audience. The 'Potter' series grew darker and more compelling as its audience aged. It worked perfectly."
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