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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I Scores Sixth-Biggest Weekend Ever, With $125 Million

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I don't generally like to brag, but my math yesterday concerning a likely poor weekend multiplier for the seventh Harry Potter film was dead-on. After opening with $24 million in midnight showings, the film pulled in $61 million on its first day, and just $38 million on its second, which was a 40% drop. In other words, it pulled in on Saturday EXACTLY what it pulled in on Friday without those midnight screenings. Said Friday-to-Saturday drop will put it squarely in the top-ten for the biggest such plunges. The actual weekend estimate is $125 million, which gives the series both its biggest three-day opening weekend and its lowest weekend-multiplier ever (2.04x). It also makes Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I the most front-loaded midnight movie ever for its opening weekend, as it did 19% of its weekend business on 12:01am showings (go here for a rundown of notable midnight numbers). The good news is that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I scored the sixth-biggest opening weekend of all time. The bad news is that it also scored the sixth most front-loaded opening weekends in history as well. Is that a box office equivalent of a palindrome?
What this all means is that, as suspected for awhile, the Harry Potter franchise is playing pretty much identical to the much-compared Twilight Saga. Both franchises had had massively front-loaded sequels. Both franchises play almost exclusively to the fans, with few converts jumping on-board this late in the game. The last three Harry Potter films had grossed $290 million, $292 million, and $301 million respectively. As you can see, when you add in inflation and a random variable or two, the films have basically the same attendance level. There is no reason to expect anything different from this seventh chapter, so factoring in inflation and the added IMAX ticket-price bump, we can expect this penultimate Harry Potter adventure to gross around $310-320 million (the series high is still the original, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, with $317 million). Regardless, you can bet that the eight and final film, which opens on July 15th, will get a big box office boost from being the series finale.
Of course, there is a reasonable concern that this film could play EXACTLY like Twilight Saga: New Moon, which opening on the same weekend last year and had an almost identical weekend pattern (18% in midnight screenings, 1.972x weekend multiplier). That film dropped by 70% over Thanksgiving weekend, actually dropping a full $100 million for its opening weekend gross, and ended up with $296 million. Should Harry Potter 7 follow a similar pattern, expect a $260 million domestic total, which will make it the second-lowest grosser in the franchise. Obviously, the key will be Thanksgiving weekend, where it will have to fend off Disney's Tangled as well as the (correct) perception that while it's the best film of the series, it's not really a family film. If it can hold its own next weekend, it should be just fine and in shipshape to handle The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on December 10th and Tron: Legacy on December 17th.
The only other new release was the Russell Crowe vehicle, The Next Three Days. The 'husband breaks his wife out of jail and ruins his son's life' thriller grossed just $6.8 million, making it one of Russell Crowe's lowest opening weekends ever. Lionsgate really screwed the pooch on this one, wrongly thinking that counter-programing against Harry Potter would yield results. The Next Three Days is not Walk the Line, the acclaimed Johnny Cash biopic that opened to $22 million on the same weekend Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire opened with $102 million five years ago this weekend. Had this picture come out in October or even early next year, it would have been a viable adult-thriller option. But the Harry Potter franchise basically appeals to everyone. The only moviegoers who genuinely don't like the franchise are (let's be honest...) film snobs who have probably never seen the series (why else would they be so against a character-driven adventure series filled with Britain's best actors)? Point being, if they went to the movies this weekend, they were probably seeing one of the many Oscar bait films currently available such as Fair Game ($1.5 million weekend, $3.7 million cum) and the terrific 127 Hours ($915,000 this weekend on 108 screens, for a $1.9 million cumulative gross).
Or, if they were just red-blooded moviegoers who just don't like stories about boy wizards (fair enough), and they wanted a good thriller, they were (smartly) seeing Unstoppable, which dropped 42% for a $13.1 million second weekend. It's not a great hold, but it's the smallest second-weekend drop for a Denzel Washington thriller since Man on Fire back in 2004. I still think this movie is going to play for awhile, as it's just damn good and I can't imagine anyone not recommending it. If audiences need an all-ages option for a 'big family goes to the movies' day over Thanksgiving weekend, this is it. It's not a G-rated cartoon (Tangled), it's not an R-rated action picture (Faster) or R-rated romantic comedy (Love and Other Drugs), it's not a remake of Showgirls (Burlesque), and it's not part 7 of a long-running franchise (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part I). It's a ripping PG-13 thriller with no real objectionable content, and several rock-solid movie star performances (Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, Rosario Dawson, etc), and a script that lets nearly every character be at least as smart as those in the audience.

For more box office info, and a peak at the Thanksgiving releases, read the rest of this article at Mendelson's Memos.