Weekend Wrap-Up for July 13-15, 2007

Potter’s Phoenix Lifts Box Office

By John Hamann

July 15, 2007

All these kids are richer than you.

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Harry Potter fans turned out en masse for the latest entry into the hugely profitable franchise for Warner Bros. For the first time, the studio decided to release a Potter film on a Wednesday. Would it help the weekend gross or hurt it? Also on tap this weekend is the second weekend of the huge Transformers movie. Would the Paramount release see the same sort of drop off the other big flicks have this summer? Read on to find out.

The number one film (obviously) is Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth Harry Potter flick in six years. The Warner Bros. movie earned $77.4 million this weekend, the lowest opening weekend total of all five films. But wait, don't be too quick to judge. Usually I slam studios for using the Wednesday open strategy; however, for a Harry Potter film, I don't feel it's a bad idea. Why? Because Potter fans are insane. They spent $12 million to see midnight showings of the Order of the Phoenix on Tuesday, before its normal Wednesday release. Combined with those midnight previews, the Wednesday gross came in at around $44 million, giving it the biggest Wednesday total ever.


The reason I like this strategy is simple: Why have only one big day on Friday, when you can have two with a Wednesday opening like this? The nutty Potter fans line up for this one on Tuesday night, leaving a more normal time for the kids on Wednesday or Friday night. On Friday, Order of the Phoenix earned approximately $26.4 million, and already had $90 million in domestic box office before Saturday rolled around. Word-of-mouth was not going to be a factor over the first five days, where in some cases, a studio will release a dog of a film on Wednesday, and by Friday, even people that don't read a newspaper know the film sucks, and the weekend gross is deflated. That was never going to be the case with this Harry Potter. The Saturday gross came in at $28.5 million, and after the studio estimate for Sunday, the weekend gross is estimated at $77.4 million. While true that the weekend gross is the lowest of the five movies in the series (the lowest opening weekend for a Potter film is the second, Chamber of Secrets, which had a three-day take of $88.4 million), the five-day total is the biggest ever for a Potter film, coming in at $140 million (the previous largest five-day was Goblet of Fire, which earned $119 million over five days). Simply put, this is a big domestic win for Warner Bros., as the five-day finish comes close to beating Phoenix's production budget ($150 million).

The superlative five-day gross was no easy task for the executives behind this installment of the Harry Potter franchise. They brought on a new director in David Yates, who was a newcomer to the world of $150 million films. This one also had a new writer in Michael Goldenberg, whose best credit might be the screenplay for Jodie Foster's Contact, which bore the brunt for a lot of the criticism behind that film. I thought Warner Bros. was concerned when they booked this into 4,285 venues, as sometimes the wider the release equals the concern around a film's legs, and there is an underlying need to gross as much as possible over opening weekend. Lastly, this Potter was tagged with the worst reviews of the series (but they were still pretty good). At RottenTomatoes, 178 reviewers chimed in on Order of the Phoenix, and 135 liked it enough to give it a positive response. That leaves Phoenix with a 76% fresh rating, well back of Goblet of Fire at 89% fresh, Prisoner of Azkaban at a similar 89%, Chamber of Secrets at 82% and Sorcerer's Stone at 79% fresh. Judging by the numbers seen this weekend, there is no apathy around Harry Potter, as this film shows only one way but up in terms of future earnings for this franchise.

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