Potter Takes Box Office Prisoner

Weekend Wrap-Up for June 4-6, 2004

by John Hamann

June 6, 2004

Where's Linus? The Great Pumpkin could arrive any second.

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After the $41.2 million opening day box office take for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it looked like the Potter sequel had a better than decent shot of beating Spider-Man’s opening weekend record of $114.8 million. However, unlike Shrek 2, Potter wilted badly as the weekend continued.

Slotting the third Potter film on the first weekend of June had been viewed as something of a gamble. After all, the best June performance with regards to opening weekend was The Hulk, and its $62.1 million was viewed as a significant disappointment. The movie which opened at the same slot as Potter last year, 2 Fast 2 Furious, managed a solid $50.5 million. That moderate number by today's standards had been the record-holder for best opening weekend for the first week of June. The best performance on this weekend before that had been The Truman's Show $31.5 million in 1998. For whatever reason, June has not been the launching pad for mega-openers the way that May has been, and this weekend in particular has not been conducive to huge numbers.

Why then would Warner Bros. stake out the first weekend of June to launch its tentpole instead of Memorial Day or the first weekend of May? The studio knows that Potter 3 will have little direct demographic competition until Spider-Man 2 arrives in theaters at the end of the month. The only film with the same core appeal is next weekend's ridiculous-looking Garfield from MGM. Warner Bros. sagely recognized that if they could get Potter launched successfully with a strong opening weekend, the movie should have smooth sailing until Spider-Man 2 comes in at the end of the month.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the number one film of the weekend; it comes in third on the list of top openings of all time, behind Spider-Man and Shrek 2. Also, the film now holds the record for the biggest opening weekend for a third title in a franchise. Potter 3 pulled in $92.7 million this weekend from 3,855 venues (about 200 less than Shrek 2 debuted with) and had a fantastic venue average of $24,047. If estimates hold, the Warner's flick had the top opening day ever, at $41.8 million. The runner-up now is Spider-Man with its $39.4 million in first day sales. What I didn’t see coming was how front-loaded this Potter sequel would be. After the huge Friday gross, Potter plunged 18% to $33.5 million on Saturday. This killed its chances of overtaking Spider-Man as the top opener of all time.

Even more surprising was that the Saturday figure was lower than what the first two Potter films did on their Saturdays despite ticket price inflation in the period since their release. The Alfonso Cuarón kid-pic ended up with a disappointing weekend multiplier of 2.25 (Friday gross divided into total weekend gross), which hopefully for WB isn’t an indication of legs (but probably is). On the plus side, as summer rears its ugly head, these multipliers go down due to kids being out of school on Friday. As an example, we've consistently seen this happen with Disney animated productions. Shrek 2 managed an out-of-this–world 3.81 in mid-May, an inversely proportional box office behavior to the way Potter 3 behaved. This demonstrates that Potter’s audience were free to see the film on Friday, bought advance tickets in droves, and used those tickets on opening day rather than waiting for a family outing at Saturday and Sunday matinees. Don’t get me wrong about the film's performance; this opening weekend number for Potter 3 is a homerun. As we can see, the movie did better on the first weekend of June than the prior two best openings ($50.5 and $31.5 million) combined to earn on this date. It’s the opening weekend indication of legs that might trouble some WB execs. The question now is whether or not kids will spend their summer holidays giving the movie repeat performance.

Harry Potter 3 had all the things Shrek 2 had and more: there were great reviews almost across the board (only 16 rotten out of a possible 145 reviews, or 89% fresh), and a built-in audience that couldn’t be matched. There were some worries leading up to the release of Potter 3 that maybe some of those faithful muggles that had grown up with the first two films might be growing up and out of the Harry Potter world. However, this weekend’s gross compared to the debuts of the first two Potter movies proves that not to be true. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone grossed $90.3 million, and the follow-up was actually lower, as The Chamber of Secrets opened with $88.4 million. A large part of the increase this weekend for Potter 3 is due to ticket price inflation, of course. The marketing was perfect for the debut, and a somewhat empty schedule in May helped; this added to the fact that in-theatre marketing for Potter during the Shrek 2 onslaught probably drove the huge opening weekend gross home. At the movies, success breeds success, as people who see a good movie receive positive reinforcement to hit the local cineplex again soon. Another hot opening this summer may mean more success in the sunny months to come.

The budget for Potter 3 was $130 million, money the studio will most likely make back from DVD and ancillary sales alone. It will be interesting to see what happens to the legs of this chapter of the Potter story. With "legs-friendly" opening weekends in November, the first film had a open-to-total multiplier of 3.5, and the second Potter was much lower at just under 3, which was likely a big reason for the move toward a summer release date for Part Three of the series.

About $55 million behind Potter is Shrek 2, and even with the huge success of the top film this weekend, Shrek 2 is still finding its own success in its third frame. Shrek 2 grossed $37 million this weekend, dropping only 48% versus Potter and its own holiday-inflated Memorial Day long Weekend gross. Shrek 2 became the quickest film to cross the $300 million mark ever, doing it in 18 days, a mind-blowing four days faster than Spider-Man did in 2002. Shrek 2 sits with a current gross of $313.6 million, and will now aim for Finding Nemo’s top animated gross of $339.7 million, which it will beat easily within the next two weekends. DreamWorks owes much of that success to smart marketing and a very effective release date.

In third is Fox’s The Day After Tomorrow. We at BOP talk a lot about competition, and what that affect has on box office. While I agree with my site mates that there was no competition factor in the Potter or Shrek 2 grosses, I do think that The Day After Tomorrow might have got crunched in what I call the “venue squeeze”. The Day After Tomorrow grossed $28.2 million in its second weekend, down a whopping 59%, which is probably due to the bigger screens and venues being devoted to either Potter or Shrek. The $125 million disaster epic has now grossed $128.8 million, and is going to have to be happy with about $165-175 million.

Buena Vista’s Raising Helen lands in fourth this weekend, as the top ten this weekend is top heavy. The Kate Hudson flick grossed $6.7 million this weekend from 2,721 venues, and was down 39% from the three-day portion of the long weekend. The $50 million Garry Marshall film has now amassed $24.2 million, and should finish well short of its reported production budget.

In its fourth weekend, Troy takes the fifth spot at the box office. Troy is summer 2004’s second “winning disappointment” (the first was Van Helsing), as the film’s international sales will make this a win for its studio, although its domestic sales have to be considered a disappointment. Troy grossed $5.7 million in its fourth weekend, down 52% from the previous frame. The $175 million film has now grossed $119 million stateside.

The rest of the top ten comes in below $3 million. Sixth went to the leggy Paramount feature Mean Girls. The Tina Fey-scripted comedy pulled in $2.9 million in its sixth weekend, versus a puny budget of $17 million. The film now has a gross of $78.1 million. Seventh spot goes to MGM’s Soul Plane, which grossed $2.85 million from 1,566 venues. The film was down 50% from last weekend and has a current gross of $11.1 million versus a production budget of $17 million.

Van Helsing takes the eighth spot this weekend, and has to be a disappointment for Universal, despite big domestic and international sales. Universal dusted off their old-school monsters for this one, and it looks like the film will fail to reach $130 million in domestic box office. This weekend, Van Helsing grossed $2.3 million, down a heavy 55% from last weekend. It now has accumulated $114.5 million in domestic receipts.

Ninth is Man of Fire, which holds on to a top ten spot again this weekend. The Denzel Washington actioner grossed $1 million this weekend and has a domestic cume of $75.4 million.

Tenth is the documentary Super Size Me which is still playing at only 205 venues. The unique doc grossed $0.8 million this weekend, and has a current total of $6.2 million.

Overall this weekend, the top ten estimates combined grossed an out-of-this-world $180.2 million. Last year, estimates came in at about $155 million, so summer box office 2004 is staying well ahead of its year-ago predecessor.

Top Ten for Weekend of June 4-6, 2004
of Sites
Changes in
Sites from
Gross ($)
Gross ($)
1 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban 3,855 New $92.6 $92.6
2 Shrek 2 4,131 -92 $37.0 $313.6
3 The Day After Tomorrow 3,444 +19 $28.2 $128.8
4 Raising Helen 2,721 +4 $6.7 $24.2
5 Troy 2,750 -661 $5.7 $119.1
6 Mean Girls 1,817 -801 $2.9 $78.1
7 Soul Plane 1,566 No change $2.85 $11.1
8 Van Helsing 2,059 -832 $2.3 $114.5
9 Man on Fire 683 -743 $1.0 $75.4
10 Super Size Me 205 +8 $0.8 $6.2
11 A Day Without a Mexican 101 -6 0.4 2.5
12 Saved! 31 +11 0.3 0.9



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