By Walid Habboub
There's little doubt that records will broken this weekend as Harry Potter
and The Sorcerer's Stone opens nationwide on 3,672 screens, an all time
record for opening weekend venue counts. The only real question left is by how much will the Chris Columbus
helmed film eclipse The Lost World's three-day weekend record? Working on a few
assumptions, we can approach estimating Potter's take through different
First, it is important to throw out any notion or argument regarding the run
time of the film. Not only did Pearl Harbor prove that run time has little
effect on a movie's potential first weekend revenue, it also did not receive
the astronomical print count, 8,000+, that the little wizard has. This will
ensure that any negative effect that run time might have is lessened.
One thing that is always forgotten about movie releases is that exhibitors
are in the business of making money and they will do anything they can to
maximize their revenue generated. There is no law that says movies cannot be
run at 9 a.m., much like there is no law preventing the screening of films at
12:01 a.m. We can safely make the assumption that exhibitors will exploit
this opportunity to cash in as much as they can and run time, therefore, is
Also, it is a waste of time to try to put a maximum cap on how much money
the movie can make based on the number of screens it plays on. The
combination of screen count, print count, different exhibitor screening
strategies and geographic market demand make it impossible to accurately
forecast a maximum cap. Of course, these theories can be made, but it's much
sounder to base theories on actual facts first.
Now, to the actual forecasting; I fully expect Potter to be the most popular
movie of all time, coming out of the gate. The best approach to take, I
find, is to work from daily numbers and go from there.
The biggest single-day take in history was Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace's
$28.54 million. It's important to note that this single-day record was
recorded on a Wednesday, with the rush of people clamoring to see the film,
when the normal strongest day of an opener is Saturday. The importance of
this factor will be presented a bit later on.
The biggest Saturday, which is essentially the most revenue generated on the
biggest revenue generating day of the week, was The Mummy Returns' $26.9
million earlier this year. There is no question in my mind that Potter will
decimate that record. On a pure numbers comparison, the film has more
screens and prints than The Mummy Returns and on a pure hype angle, Potter
is more hotly anticipated than Mummy Returns was. For my money, there is no
doubt that this Saturday record will fall easily.
So now I will work off an estimate of $33 million for Potter; a number that
also decimates The Phantom Menace's one-day record. Usually, Fridays of any
weekend will have a lower total than Saturdays but if we look at the Star
Wars example, we see that it is easily possible to have a stronger initial
day of release total than a Saturday total. Another perfect example is X-Men
which saw its Friday to Saturday totals drop from $21.02 million to $19.24
million. These two movies show that when there is high anticipation for a
product, especially one with a well established fan base, initial opening
days can have much higher totals than Saturdays. I will however temper this
line of thought with the fact that Potter is not opening in the summer like
The Phantom Menace and X-Men did, and a portion of its core audience will
not be around Friday morning or afternoon. The expectation I would come to
is that Friday's total will be very similar to Saturday's.
Already at $66 million for the weekend, I would expect the Sunday drop-off
to be less dramatic than usual. If we put the drop-off at 33%, we have a
Sunday gross of $22 million and an overall weekend take of $88 million. This
would give us a per-screen average of $23,965; I mention this in order to
dispell any notions of a cap due to sell outs. This per screen average is
well below The Blair Witch Project's record of $26, 530.
I must admit, however, that I am a bit optimistic on this movies potential.
I am completely sold on the hype and fully expect kids to absolutely rush
out to see this movie this weekend. While the forecast seems high in
comparison to what The Lost World generated its first weekend, it's
important to note that The Lost World shattered the previous three-day record,
owned by Batman Forever, by 40%. There is no law that says Potter can only
break the record and not destroy it. Records are broken, often shattered,
and there is no law governing by what methods these records are broken.
$88 million is a realistic number and while it would be magic for Harry
Potter, the degree of difficulty in achieving such a number is at the level
of first-year student at Hogwarts.