Weekend Forecast for June 4-6, 2004

By Reagen Sulewski

June 4, 2004

Daniel Radcliffe conjures up more points for his contract.

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It's already a record breaking movie season and the hits just keep on coming. Shrek 2 and The Day After Tomorrow used the last two weeks to set a blistering pace, but the third entry in the Harry Potter series is about to surpass them both.

There's very little that needs to be said about the amazing worldwide popularity of Harry Potter; as one of the most popular children's book series of all time (and practically written in screenplay format) it's a no-brainer that the films would be wildly popular. The first two films made from the first two books grossed $975 and $866 million respectively worldwide, and are third and seventh overall on that worldwide list. And that's just the box office receipts. With DVD and ancillaries as the hidden, more valuable revenue stream these days, this franchise is nothing short of a license to print money for Warner Bros.

You can see why they'd be anxious to have one of these films come out every year (more or less), as long as J.K. Rowling is willing to turn out the books (I’m sure there are plans to lock her in a dungeon somewhere after book seven). To that extent, when Chris Columbus stepped aside after directing the first two films, Warner Bros. was quick to find his inexpensive Mexican replacement, one Alfonso Cuaron, famous for the fable A Little Princess and the teen sex romp (now we're getting somewhere) Y Tu Mama Tambien. The hope here is that Cuaron can add a little more of the magic that, popular as the films were, many felt was missing in Columbus's pedestrian and safe adaptations. The verdict is mixed on this count, with some going so far as to declare it one of the best fantasy films ever, with the bare minimum sentiment being, "it's about the same as the last ones."

In terms of on-screen changes, the most significant was forced by the death of Richard Harris, who played Headmaster Dumbledore. He has been replaced by another distinguished British actor, Michael Gambon, who appears to have quite ably stepped into the role of the moral center of the films. The series also continues its tradition of hiring British "guest stars" in the pivotal roles, namely Gary Oldman, Emma Thompson and David Thewlis, though it's the three young central stars who are blossoming into their own (with maybe a bit too much attention paid to Emma Watson's blossom, you pervs).

The most significant difference with this outing is the summer release date, when both movies before had November bows. With school officially out throughout most of the United States, those crucial "Friday at 11:35" showings won't be forced to leave six or seven seats empty so we should see an overall increase in the opening weekend of this one, even though there was a dip going from Sorcerer's Stone to Chamber of Secrets. At a ridiculously large 3,855 venues (and a rumored 9,000 print count, or essentially one in every four screens in North America), we are going to see an amazing weekend from Potter and company to the tune of $115 million. The three-day weekend record is absolutely in jeopardy here.

Feeling like chopped liver are last week's top two films, Shrek 2 and The Day After Tomorrow. After all, they only earned a combined $140.9 million in three days and $181.4 in four, completely shattering previous records. As of Wednesday, Shrek 2 had already passed its predecessor's domestic run of $267 million. For the time being, it'll have to settle for being the fastest to break the $300 million mark, in either 18 or 19 days (a mark that will fall at least once, and maybe twice more this summer). However, the last time an animated film went up against Harry Potter, it was Monsters, Inc., which fell over 50% in one of the few distinct verifiable incidences of competition (it eventually recovered). With summer providing more daytime viewing opportunities, it shouldn't be quite as bad, though a 45% drop off the three-day total to $40 million would not be out of order.

The Day After Tomorrow won't suffer the same effect but the result may be the same, simply from the short shelf life disaster films tend to have. Entertaining-but-instantly-forgettable is not the stuff legendary cinema is made of. I can't expect anyone will be complaining at Fox, as a $35 million weekend would take it to about $135 million after just ten days.

With these three films commanding almost 12,000 venues between them, anything that's not performing to snuff is ripe for the picking. Significantly among these, last weekend's third place finisher sheds over 600 venues even as it earned $15 million over Memorial Day Weekend. Only eight films in total are positioned in over 1,000 venues, and just six in over 2,000. If you're not into wizards, ogres or the end of the world, you may have trouble having something hold your interest at the theaters this weekend.

Some smaller films are still defying this notion, including Super Size Me, which has now managed two top ten weekends on fewer than 200 venues. A third ought to be no problem for this fast-food documentary, which expands slightly, having grossed (these puns just write themselves) $5 million so far, a Burger King's Ransom for a documentary. Another documentary to watch is The Corporation, though it only opens on two screens in California this weekend. Already the highest grossing documentary in Canadian history (at slightly over $1 million -- a figure few American documentaries reach and few Canadian films reach period), it's now bringing its indictment of the standing of Corporations as legally protected "people" Stateside. It's proven quite popular on the festival circuit so far and has the potential to grab a big audience.

Forecast: Weekend of June 4-6, 2004
Number of
Changes in Sites
from Last
Gross ($)
1 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 3,855 new 115.3
2 Shrek 2 4,131 -92 39.8
3 The Day After Tomorrow 3,444 +19 35.4
4 Troy 2,750 -661 5.6
5 Raising Helen 2,721 +4 5.5
6 Mean Girls 1,871 -801 3.2
7 Soul Plane 1,566 0 3.0
8 Van Helsing 2,055 -836 2.5
9 Man on Fire 683 -743 1.2
10 Super Size Me 205 +8 1.1



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