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Weekend Forecast
for November 16-18, 2001

By Kim Hollis

Muggles, wizards and witches alike will be clamoring this weekend to see the beloved children’s book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, translated to the big screen. Based on the first book in a series that has sold over 114,000 copies worldwide, there is no question that demand for seats will be astronomical. Warner Bros. has certainly allowed for that probability, releasing the film in an opening-weekend record 3,672 theaters with a reported 8,000+ prints spread amongst those theaters.

Widespread reports of record advance sales for Moviefone and Fandango abound; however, it is important to keep in mind that only a certain percentage of seats in theaters are allotted for online sales. Nonetheless, I still look at the single data point telling me that five of 17 local showings of Harry Potter were officially sold out as of yesterday (and these theaters don’t even do online ticketing) and truly start to believe that this film will be a opening weekend phenomenon like never seen before. Yet, I’m not even going out on a limb when I make that statement.

Box office prognosticators across the board are predicting that Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone will break the three-day record set in 1997 by The Lost World. That film opened to $72.13 million in that time frame on Memorial Day weekend, accruing a $21,984 per screen average. Adjust that amount for ticket price inflation and that total increases to $84.70 million. The debate over whether the Potter sets the record isn’t really up for question (and in all likelihood the film will be considered a massive disappointment if it fails in this regard). Rather, the focus of the discussion is whether Harry Potter and friends will simply break the record or absolutely smash it. Opinions are wildly varied.

In the course of the various arguments, any number of factors are being taken into consideration. Will the two hour, 22 minute run time be a detriment? How will discounted children’s ticket prices fit into the equation? Are we just seeing an overabundance of hype without actual fan support? Is the film’s appeal limited only to fans of the book? Will parents decide to avoid the film this week because of reports of sellouts?

It’s my belief that all of these potential X-factors are pure speculation without any real data to back them up. In fact, I’d argue that it’s difficult to compare any film to Harry Potter due to its extreme far-reaching appeal and thorough cultural saturation. The fact of the matter is that I am having an extremely difficult time rationalizing why there would be any bigger rush to see a film like The Lost World or Planet of the Apes than there would be for Potter. If the demand is there, people will find a way to go. The possibilities for numbers in this case are mind-boggling.

Still, I’m of the opinion that at some point, a ceiling is hit. There are, after all, only so many seats to go around, not to mention that the film does appeal to a slightly different demographic than the Disney’s recent blockbuster, Monsters, Inc. (though it certainly has an even greater public awareness). Rather than be irrationally exuberant, I prefer to err on the side of caution with my numbers (which many will say are still too outrageously high). I truly believe that with the number of prints and staggered and early morning showings, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has to exceed the per screen average achieved by The Lost World. With an estimated $23,750 coming from each venue, the wizard should be able to conjure up total box office receipts in the area of $87.21 million.

Lost in the Harry Potter hoopla is the fact that another film is actually opening this weekend. The Wash’s 759 screens are just barely enough to qualify it as a wide release. Featuring Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and George Wallace, the urban comedy followed normal release patterns for films of this genre by opening on Wednesday. Though Snoop’s most recent film, Bones, was a box office disappointment, it appealed to a slightly different demographic and perhaps suffered due to lack of other marquee name-type recognition. The addition of Dre and Wallace coupled with the fact that this film is a comedy lead me to believe it will have a bit wider appeal, though it will certainly get lost in the shuffle during this mammoth weekend. I would look for a three-day total in the $5 million range.

I anticipate slightly exaggerated depreciation compared to last weekend for Monsters, Inc. It experienced an amazing 27% drop from its first weekend but I do believe the competition will be a factor this weekend. My guess is that it will fall around 38% this weekend for a total of $28.24 million. Last week’s openers may drop somewhat precipitously, particularly Shallow Hal, which had poor Cinemascores and critical response. Heist and Life as a House are terrific counter-programming for adult audiences during this child-friendly weekend and both should fare a bit better than the Farrelly Brothers comedy.

Forecast: Weekend of November 16-18, 2001
Projected
Rank
Film
Estimated Gross ($)
1
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
87.21
2
Monsters, Inc.
28.24
3
Shallow Hal
11.71
4
The Wash
5.02
5
The One
4.70
6
Domestic Disturbance
4.42
7
Heist
3.93
8
K-Pax
2.71
9
13 Ghosts
2.42
10
Life as a House
1.73

     


 
 

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