November 23, 2001

Charmed 'Harry Potter' Is Poised to Set More Records


The Thanksgiving-New Year's holiday movie season, which after summer is the second most lucrative on the Hollywood calendar, is under way with little doubt about who is leading the parade: a bespectacled young wizard named Harry Potter.

By the close of business at American multiplexes on Wednesday, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" had earned some $117 million in its first six days in theaters and stood an excellent chance of breaking the speed records for reaching $150 million and then $200 million at the box office.

The fantasy-adventure, based on the first book in the enormously popular series by the British author J. K. Rowling, had already broken all records for its opening weekend, earning $90.3 million from its Friday opening to Sunday night. (Initial studio estimates of $93.5 million on Sunday had to be trimmed back when actual ticket-sales figures became available on Monday, but earnings were still more than enough to shatter the previous three-day opening record of $72 million held by "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" since 1997.)

On Monday, "Harry Potter" earned an additional $6.6 million, then another $7.6 million on Tuesday and some $12.6 million on Wednesday.

Nothing else was anywhere close.

"Harry Potter has taken on a life of its own," said Dan Fellman, president of distribution for Warner Brothers, the studio that is releasing the film. "We're getting a tremendous amount of repeat business, and it's drawing in everyone, ages 8 to 80. The whole thing is working out great."

The other Hollywood studios let Harry Potter have last weekend to himself, but the lucrative five-day holiday weekend was too tempting. So three studios decided to open films on Wednesday, trying either to counterprogram, by releasing movies aimed at an audience unlikely to be Potter-obsessed, or to siphon off some of the Potter overflow.

Final figures won't be available until today, but based on estimates of Wednesday's box office, the film that seemed to be doing the best after opening on Wednesday was Universal's "Spy Game," an action-thriller from the director Tony Scott, starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, which studio and box-office watchers estimated had made $3.5 million to $4 million in that one day. The film looked as if it would benefit from its appeal to an older and more female audience than the kind drawn to "Harry Potter."

Two films, meanwhile, were going after a young male audience: 20th Century Fox's "Black Knight," a comedy starring Martin Lawrence as a theme park employee sent back in time to the Middle Ages, and Disney's "Out Cold," a comedy-romance set in the world of youthful snowboarders. Estimates had both films earning $1 million to $2 million on Wednesday, with Mr. Lawrence's comedy doing closer to $2 million and the snowboarding picture coming in nearer the bottom of that range.

The Thanksgiving holiday period has been especially profitable for family-oriented movies for several years and has often provided a powerful kickoff for the holiday movie season. Last year's Thanksgiving weekend winner was Jim Carrey in "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which earned $73.5 million over the five-day holiday. In 1999, Pixar's "Toy Story 2" made $80.1 million in the same period.

Last year, the nation's box offices earned a record $1.3 billion during the Thanksgiving-New Year's period. "If the current pace continues, and it looks like it should, this will be another record season," said Paul Dergarabedian, chairman of Exhibitor Relations, a Los Angeles-based company that monitors box-office sales.

Indeed, the whole year looks likely to break the record of $7.7 billion set in 2000. If the current pace continues, Mr. Dergarabedian said, North American theaters will sell more than $8.5 billion worth of tickets by the year's end, far above even the most optimistic estimates of a few months ago.

Clearly, he said, the events of Sept. 11 have done nothing to keep people from going to the movies, whatever effect they may have had on the rest of American life.

This year, Disney decided to release Pixar's latest family feature, "Monsters, Inc.," on Nov. 2, giving it two weeks in theaters before the arrival of "Harry Potter." This has proved to be a winning strategy, as the computer-animated comedy has already earned more than $160 million and stands to surpass $180 million by the end of the weekend.

Normally a movie that opens as widely as "Harry Potter" did it was playing on 8,200 screens, nearly one in four of the available screens in North America falls off significantly in its second weekend. Since its second weekend is a major holiday period, however, that drop-off may be blunted.

Gitesh Pandya, who predicts ticket sales on an Internet site,, estimates "Harry Potter" will make an additional $68 million from today through Sunday, a drop of only 25 percent over its three-day opening. If so, it could earn $200 million in its first 10 days in theaters, shattering the previous record held by "Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace," which passed that mark in 13 days in 1999.

"That seems a bit of a stretch," Mr. Fellman said.

He said the next record that Warner Brothers was facing would be to surpass $150 million, which the "Star Wars" film did in 10 days. "Harry Potter" seems poised to break that record. "We most likely will surpass that in eight," Mr. Fellman said, and only then will the studio worry about breaking the $200 million record.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company