Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2011: #1
Harry Potter Finally Graduates (More or Less)
By Kim Hollis
December 30, 2011

J.K. Rowling's third basement.

After ten years, seven books, eight movies, and billions of dollars in revenue, the Harry Potter franchise finally came to a close in 2011. With the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Warner Bros. said farewell to their goose that laid the golden egg, leaving fans of the boy wizard with a gaping void to fill.

Consider if you will that a child who was eight-years-old when the movie was released in 2001 would have been old enough to vote by the time the final film debuted in theaters. Just as Harry, Ron and Hermione grew up before our very eyes on celluloid, so did the children who loved the Harry Potter series and were eagerly in theater seats on opening weekends. It was a series that matured with its audience, tackling ever more difficult ideas and themes, from personal responsibility to death and beyond. The Potter franchise wrote the playbook for tween-targeted pop culture, one that the Twilight series would follow a few years later. In 2012, The Hunger Games will hope to follow suit.

The Potter movie journey began in 2001, as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, depending where you live) debuted on November 16th with $90.3 million for the weekend. At the time, this was the record for the biggest opening weekend ever, and the film also set (and within a day, broke) the record for biggest single day of box office. Yes, those bragging rights were short-lived since Spider-Man took over a few months later, but the naysayers who claimed that the Potter series was too youth-oriented and that a fickle audience would not follow the series to theaters were proven wrong.

In fact, what we learned in watching the transformation of the books to film is that fans of the series spanned a wide spectrum of ages. Sure, there were kids that loved the books and they made up a large portion of the audience, but adults who simply love stories from the fantasy genre found something special in the series as well. It was this combination of audience that kept the series remarkably consistent over the years it was in theaters, leading up to the grand finale of Deathly Hallows. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone set the standard with its $317.6 million domestic finish, but it really impressed in terms of worldwide numbers, with a dynamic total of $974.7 million.

Chamber of Secrets didn’t mix things up too much, as director Chris Columbus stuck with what worked in the first film, leading some to say it felt like too much of a rehash. This was reflected somewhat in the final numbers, as the $88.4 million debut slightly underperformed the original film, while the overall result followed typical sequel behavior. Domestically, Chamber of Secrets earned $261 million, while its worldwide total came in at $879 million.

With a different calendar configuration, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban fell even further behind the first two films. With a June 4, 2004 opening, the movie had to deal with summer box office trending rather than being able to take advantage of Thanksgiving-through-Christmas legs as the first two films had done. The result was an excellent $93.7 million first weekend in North America, but final totals of “only” $249.5 million domestically and $796.6 million worldwide. (It’s a shame, too, because in my opinion this is the finest film in the series.

From the fourth film on, things got bigger and better. Goblet of Fire, arguably the most intriguing and action packed of the films until the finale, returned to the November opening date and started with $102.7 million on its way to $290 million domestically and $896 million worldwide. Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince returned to summer with July release dates, translating to respective opening weekends of $77.1 million and $77.8 million. Sure, these weekend totals were lower than others, but the final results were solid. Order of the Phoenix earned $290 million in North America and $940 million worldwide, while Half-Blood Prince tallied $302 million domestically and $934 million worldwide.

For the final book, the studio made the decision to expand the story to two films, in part because the story in that seventh novel was so sweeping that more time was needed for the adaptation, but surely also because they wanted to get an extra billion plus out of the series. The ploy undoubtedly worked. Deathly Hallows Part I took over the November 19, 2010 weekend with $125 million. Its domestic take was $296 million, while the worldwide total was $$956 million.

For the series finale, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, Warner Bros. debuted the movie on July 15, 2011. The franchise came full circle, as the eighth film set the record for largest opening weekend ever with a $169.2 million total. It also became the highest grossing of all the films, both domestically and worldwide. The North American total was $381 million, and the worldwide tally was a gaudy $1.3 billion. It’s the 13th highest grosser in North American history, but worldwide it sits at #3, behind only Avatar and Titanic. It has the highest single day of box office with the $91.1 million it earned on Friday, July 15th (beating the second place film by almost a full $20 million). It ties The Dark Knight and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as fastest movie to reach $200 million, taking only five days to accomplish this feat.

To put it all in perspective, the franchise total for Harry Potter is $7.7 billion. The average worldwide gross per film is $963 million – just short of a billion apiece. Star Wars has earned 4.3 billion (excluding The Clone Wars, which does add another $68 million, but skews the average per film so I’m tossing it out). The average per Star Wars flick is $723.9 million.

For those who want to argue that ticket inflation should render those numbers irrelevant (I would pose that the first three Star Wars films had an easier time capturing dollars in a period when entertainment options were far less prevalent), let’s compare to the Twilight franchise. The worldwide average for that series is $493.3 million – Potter almost doubles that amount.

For those who just don’t want to live in a world without Harry, the fun hasn’t really ended. At Universal Studios in Orlando, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a huge hit, drawing so many crowds that at times the park has to stop allowing additional people in. As the final movie was released, JK Rowling was announcing registration for the Pottermore website, where users can have an interactive experience with the books, from visiting Diagon Alley to making potions to casting spells. Harry Potter Legos are a huge seller for the Christmas season, along with video games, board games and action figures. Harry Potter is a cultural touchstone, and although the movies may have had their final day in theaters, the boy wizard will remain part of our lives for a long time to come.