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'Potter' and 'Rings' Join All-Time Moneymakers List

5 Mar, 2002 By: Brian Fuson

Thanks to the sensational grosses they have racked up in international markets, two year-end releases — Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring — have blasted into the realm of the worldwide top 10 highest-grossing films in history.

That accomplishment is all the more impressive given that the box office class of 2001 started off a bit timidly — by year's end, only three films had joined the ranks of the worldwide top 50 of all time and the top grosser of that trio just barely cracked the top 30.

Some of the magic surrounding Potter and Rings is attributable to the fact that both are based on literary works from English authors that have a huge fan base around the world. J.K. Rowling started the Potter series in the late 1990s, while J.R.R. Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the 1950s.

Phenomenons in publishing, they are now box office titans as well. Potter has become the second highest-grossing film with a worldwide gross of $941.7 million and counting, bumping 20th Century Fox's Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace ($925.5 million) into third place. Fox and Paramount's Titanic remains the worldwide box office champ with an amazing $1.83 billion worldwide.

Potter is also the highest-grossing domestic release of 2001 with $315 million, but it was the wizard's $626.7 million international gross that pushed the film into the second spot worldwide. The $600 million-plus international gross for Potter is second highest in history after Titanic ($1.23 billion).

Alan Horn, president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros., attributed part of the film's sensational international box office to its literary success. "To the extent that the books are enjoying worldwide distribution and enjoying great sales, the motion picture's success tracks that," said Horn, who also noted that Potter received better reviews overseas than in North America.

The Chris Columbus-helmed feature had the added benefit of an exceptionally wide release overseas. "It was the broadest release we have ever had; we were on over 10,000 screens internationally," said Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, president of international distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures. "Once we screened the movie, we realized we would have playability and marketability," she said.

Potter was translated into 43 different languages, and in some cases both the dubbed and English versions played the same theater. The film generated its highest international gross in Japan, where it conjured up $158.3 million, followed by the United Kingdom with $92.6 million.

"It's truly a phenomenon in Japan. It's become a brand unto itself," Kwan-Rubinek said. Two weekends ago, which included a school holiday in Japan, the box office for Potter was up 27 percent during its 13th week of release.

Sue Kroll, president of international marketing for Warner Bros. Pictures, said: "Harry Potter was a worldwide phenomenon before the film launched, but we never took that for granted. The entire campaign was developed as a stand-alone movie event, and our target audience was all moviegoers. We were very strategic in our approach to sustaining an in-season support — creating fresh looks and tailor-made media schedules in each territory." (In-season support is the marketing and advertising support a film receives after its initial release.)

Regarding the ratio of Potter's domestic cume to its international gross, the film is in the company of Titanic — the big ship's international gross doubled its domestic take. Apart from Titanic and Potter, no other film in the worldwide top 50 has accomplished that feat.

The domestic release of Potter has pretty much run its course, but there may be a few million dollars left to glean from theaters in North America, where it's the seventh highest-grossing film in history.

Potter is the top-grossing domestic release in Warner Bros. history, and it's the company's first film to top the $300 million mark.

"The outstanding box office results were predicated on the literary success as well as numerous Internet sites and chat rooms, which created a life of its own for the film — from ages 8 to 80," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros.

Not to be left out of the mix, Rings has catapulted into the eighth spot with a worldwide box office cume of $749.6 million.

"It's a classic tale of good vs. evil," said David Tuckerman, New Line's president of domestic distribution. "Peter Jackson did an incredible job of taking a novel this dense and turning it into a vision regular filmgoers can touch, feel and be a part of."

The North American total for Rings stands at $287.6 million — 12th on the all-time list. Rings is also the highest-grossing film in New Line's history. Most industry observers agree that Rings should top the $300 million mark domestically, which could place the Peter Jackson-helmed film into the top 10.

Internationally, Rings has grossed $462 million, ranking as the sixth highest-grossing film outside of North America. Rings has been released in all the major markets and is still racking up significant grosses. In Japan, where it opened Saturday to $6.8 million, Rings is projected to gross $80 million-$90 million, which would put the total international gross near the $600 million mark.

The rankings for the Top 10 films could see further changes with Universal's worldwide rerelease this month of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, currently ninth on the all-time list with $704.8 million.

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