Weekend Wrap-Up

Harry Potter and the Front-loaded Opening Frame

By John Hamann

July 19, 2009

Harry has no spell to defend himself against this one.

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The most expensive Harry Potter flick opened at theaters this weekend, and once again, young audiences ate it up, propelling it to the franchise's biggest opening ever over five days. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opened to $159.7 million over five days, an amazing figure, but there are some semi-troubling trends that Warner Bros. will be watching this weekend. However, when your franchise has earned over $1.5 billion – on the domestic side alone – frontloading and ballooning budgets are not going to keep studio executives up at night.

It was another huge Harry Potter weekend for the fifth time this decade. Opening weekend numbers indicate the kids are becoming more and more fanatical about it, so it's interesting that the Catholic Church embraced this film more than the others. The Half-Blood Prince opened late on Tuesday night, and started its five days by setting a record, somehow earning $22 million in the middle of the night. That beats The Dark Knight's midnight screenings by a landslide (and nobody died during filming). With this huge figure, some thought records were coming down this weekend, and Michael Bay and Transformers were finally going to get some comeuppance. Sadly, even Harry Potter couldn't take down Michael Bay, as the Wednesday figure came in at $58 million, part of which came from that $22 million from those very well-attended midnight screenings. The opening Wednesday is an uh-oh figure if I've ever seen one. Without those midnight showings, it means Potter really earned only $36 million on day one, and this one is going to be the epitome of front-loading. Midnight showings for the previous film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, came in at $14 million, with a total opening Wednesday figure of $44.2 million, making midnight showings 32% of that opening day total. Half-Blood Prince saw an increase to that percentage, as midnight showings consisted of 38% of that opening day figure. After Wednesday, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was only $4 million behind Transformers 2, and I have to admit I was hoping for some magic to happen. It didn't.


The front-loading shadow only grew on Thursday, as the Half-Blood Prince earned $22 million (remember that midnight screening figure?) and was off 62% from the previous day. With box office, we obviously expect a hefty drop-off from the Wednesday to the Thursday, especially with a film like this one that had well-attended midnight screenings, but this is a really big drop. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen fell 53% from Wednesday to Thursday, moving from $62 million to $29.1 million, a number more logical that Potter's 62% plunge. Again, versus Order of the Phoenix, the front-loading shadow grew again. Phoenix opened to $44 million on Wednesday, and dropped 58% to $18.4 million on Thursday. So, the good news is that the numbers are bigger, the slight bad news is that the drop is bigger. What matters most, though, is the transition from Thursday to Friday.

We've seen some big changes to box office over the last decade. In the past, with a five day opening, analysts expected the Friday number to come close to matching that Wednesday opening figure, mostly due to the idea that Friday is more of a movie-going night than Wednesday is. That formula has changed, maybe due to summer releases, or maybe due more to the fact that parents will let kids go see a midnight screening on a Tuesday night. In the case of Harry Potter, the formula hasn't applied for the last two films. With the Half-Blood Prince, the Friday figure came in at $26.8 million, well off the $36 million it earned on Wednesday (without midnight screenings), and only 22% better than the Thursday. Order of the Phoenix behaved differently. Its Wednesday, without midnight screenings, was $32 million; its Friday came in at $25.8 million, but carried a 41% increase over its Thursday. So after all that Wednesday/Thursday success, the Half-Blood Prince earned only $1 million more than Order of the Phoenix did on Friday night. After three days, though, the Half-Blood Prince was almost $20 million ahead of Phoenix, with a score of $107 million to $88.5 million. This, my friends, is front-loading.

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