Box Office Guru Preview: "Potter" Power Takes Control of Multiplexes

The Hogwarts posse is back with the highly anticipated launch of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", the fifth film in the blockbuster wizard series which has already grossed $3.53 billion worldwide.

The PG-13 film reunites the major cast members and features British television director David Yates at the helm this time. Unlike previous installments, this new one began with a record $44.2M Wednesday launch instead of the usual Friday bow. This spreads the opening weekend audience out over five days and reduces the amount of comparisons the industry will make to "Spider-Man 3" which set a new all-time debut record in May with its gargantuan $151.1M three-day launch.

Opening weekend grosses for the most part have gotten bigger through the "Potter" series. "Sorcerer's Stone" bowed to a then-record $90.3M and was followed by "Chamber of Secrets" with $88.4M, "Prisoner of Azkaban" with $93.7M, and "Goblet of Fire" with $102.3M. "Prisoner" was the only summer release (early June when most kids were still in school) and remains the lowest grossing of the franchise with $249.4M. This time, Warner Bros. has positioned "Potter" in the middle of July when all students are out of school and can go to the movies seven days a week. The move was smart since these films usualy don't have good legs and absorb the bulk of their business upfront.

By Friday, "Phoenix" will be playing in an eye-popping 4,285 theaters making it the second widest opening in history after the 4,362 of May's "At World's End" which grossed $139.8M in its first four days. The new "Potter," however, is more likely to play out like "Spider-Man 2" which launched on a Wednesday in late June/early July of 2004. It captured a stunning $152.4M in its Wednesday-to-Sunday frame with the Fourth of July holiday falling on day 5. "Phoenix" does not have a holiday to utilize, but it does stand as a another megahyped sequel from one of the most popular franchises of this decade.

The studio's marketing has been strong as usual for their favorite son. A record 91 Imax locations are playing the soon-to-be-blockbuster which will help add more potency to the numbers. Plus, excitement is extra high this time because of the anticipation surrounding the seventh and final book which by some strange coincidence will be released at the end of next week. Film 5 and book 7 will join forces and help market each other and push the media to do even more stories than usual on the property.

Competition for the long-titled film will come from pics with short names like "Transformers" and "Ratatouille," but that should not be too much of a factor since "Potter" has a clearly-defined audience. Despite some negative reviews from key critics, overall the film has earned good marks. Again this should not matter much since die-hard fans would never miss being part of the opening weekend anyway. What will matter is word-of-mouth. With the Wednesday bow, the studio will need fans to love the picture in order to spread positive buzz to more casual fans and to come back again for repeat viewing. The film's B+ average grade from over 9,000 votes on Yahoo Movies is a decent but not spectacular start in that department.

Warner Bros is not out to break records this weekend. It's all about collecting cash over as many summer nights as possible. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" might be able to open to about $90M over the Friday-to-Sunday period and around $155M over the five-day debut frame.


The magic trio is back

Elisha Cuthbert enters the horror scene in the new gorefest "Captivity," a new fright flick quietly being tossed into the marketplace. Released by After Dark Films, the R-rated entry chronicles the capture and torture of a successful model and is aimed at genre fans who like the most extreme form of horror. The marketing push has not been very strong and aside from "1408," most fright films in recent months have all flopped. This should be no different. With Optimus Prime, Mr. Potter, and John McClane all offering brand name summer action, "Captivity" should find it difficult to get noticed. Opening in about 1,500 locations on Friday the 13th, a $4M debut seems likely.


No one told her she'd be opening opposite "Harry Potter."

Last weekend, "Transformers" rocked the box office with its extended opening week haul of $155.4M. A severe drop is in store this weekend thanks to the wizard sequel. Had both "Transformers" and "Potter" opened on a Friday, a weekend drop of 60% or more would result. But since frames are diluted down from their full potential, a 50% decline may instead occur. That would give Paramount about $35M for the frame and a cume of $222M after 13.5 days.

Disney's "Ratatouille" is holding up well but will lose some of its kid audience to the Hogwarts flick. Since the "Potter" pics are getting darker, parents of younger children will probably avoid it and opt for the G-rated rodent cartoon instead. A 35% drop to around $19M would give the toon a plump $143M after 17 days.


LAST YEAR: Despite dropping 54%, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" topped the box office with a colossal $62.3M in its second weekend. In a close race for the silver medal, Sony's comedy "Little Man" edged out a second place debut with $21.6M followed closely by Universal's rival comedy "You, Me and Dupree" which bowed to $21.5M. The Wayans brothers found their way to $58.3M while the Owen Wilson pic enjoyed better legs with a $75.6M final. Rounding out the top five were "Superman Returns" with $12.3M and "The Devil Wears Prada" with $10.4M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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