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WEEKEND BOXOFFICE REPORT: 'Harry Potter' Conjures Record-Shattering $93.5 Million Debut

19 Nov, 2001 By: Staff Reporter

North American audiences were clearly under the spell of Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone this weekend as the Chris Columbus-helmed film shattered every opening record on the books with its sensational debut of an estimated $93.5 million.

If box office estimates for the weekend prove accurate, the three-day debut of Potter will have bumped out of the top spot the longstanding all-time champ of opening weekends, Universal's The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which racked up $90.2 million in 1997 during the four-day Memorial Day holiday.

Potter's three-day box office magic also beat the four-day Memorial Day openings of Buena Vista's Pearl Harbor and Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2, which took in $75.2 million and $70.8 million, respectively, which were the second and third highest openings in history.

No matter how the final box office figures for the weekend shake out, Potter's debut is without a doubt the biggest non-holiday three-day weekend in history, topping the $68.5 million generated by 20th Century Fox's Planet of the Apes this summer.

"It's motion picture history in the making and I am glad to be a part of it," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. "The total synergistic participation of the AOL Time Warner family was responsible for our record-breaking performance."

In addition, this weekend's box office will push the national year-to-date cume past the $7 billion mark in record time, five weeks earlier than any other time in history.

The PG-rated Potter also notched at least two -- and possibly three -- of the biggest single days in box office history. Prior to Potter, the record for the biggest single day at the box office was held by Fox's Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace, which collected $28.5 million on its first day of release. According to estimates from Warner Bros., Potter pulled in $31.6 million on Friday and $32.9 million on Saturday. The studio is projecting a $29 million gross for Sunday.

Potter is also tracking to become the fastest film to reach the $100 million mark as projections have the film passing that mark today, which would be four days. Phantom Menace holds the record as it crossed the $100 million mark after five days of release.

The only other film released in more than 500 theaters this weekend was Lions Gate's The Wash, helmed by DJ Pooh and starring Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog. The urban action-comedy took in an estimated $3 million from 749 sites, bringing its cume since its Wednesday opening to around $3.85 million. "It played very well at its core theaters, and we think it will continue to," said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films Releasing. "But it didn't have the crossover potential that we had hoped for."

The box office champ for the past two weekends, Buena Vista's Monsters, Inc., was in the second spot with an estimated $23 million, slipping 50% in its third frame as it lost some of its target audience to Potter -- even with an additional 192 theaters. Nevertheless, the CG animated film from Pixar crossed the $150 million mark in 17 days, one less then DreamWorks' Shrek. Its estimated cume stands at $156.7 million.

Fox's Shallow Hal moved into third with an estimated gross of $12.7 million, off 44% in its sophomore outing. The comedy, directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, has amassed an estimated $41.3 million in 10 days.

In the fourth slot was Paramount's Domestic Disturbance with an estimated $5.6 million. The John Travolta starrer was down 35% on its third weekend, advancing its total to date to roughly $33.9 million.

Warner Bros.' Heist was fifth with an estimated $4.7 million, moving its total to a soft $15 million after 10 days. The Gene Hackman starrer dropped 40% in its second weekend.

Of the weekend's top films, New Line's Life as a House had the lowest week-to-week drop with 29% in its fourth frame. The Kevin Kline starrer grossed an estimated $2.7 million, moving its cume to about $9.1 million.

Altogether, the estimated total for this weekend's top 12 films was $157.1 million, up 7% from the comparable frame a year ago. Warner Bros. clearly dominated the weekend as it had four films in the top 12, the aggregate gross of which comprised 64% of the total.

In getting Potter out to audiences, Warner Bros. placed the film in a record 3,672 theaters, topping the 3,653 theaters Paramount's Mission: Impossible 2 occupied in its debut. Warner Bros. estimates that Potter was on more than 8,200 screens, another record. "After we screened this film the response from exhibitors was overwhelming. The exhibitors stepped up to the plate and gave us a record number of screens," Fellman said.

Although the film seemed to be skewed to a young audience, the distributor noted it actually attracted a very broad demographic. "It played everywhere, to everyone, from eight-to-80: kids, college students, grandparents, parents. Everyone loved it. You can't get to this kind of number unless everyone is going," said Fellman, who noted that Potter generated outstanding scores on exit polls in all demographic quadrants.

The success of Potter is all the more impressive as a major portion of the audience was young and did not pay full price for their tickets. Its 2 1/2-hour running time was obviously not a problem.

There was some disagreement, though, among other distributors as to what the final weekend gross for Potter would be. The majority placed Potter's three-day total in the mid-$80 million range. In response, Fellman said there were hundreds of huge grosses that have not been reported due to the overwhelming number of prints, group sales, and late shows.

In the world of limited releases the third weekend of Miramax's Amelie proved fruitful as the French-language film took in an estimated $1.3 million from 163 locales, 115 more than a week ago, and occupied 11th place. The film averaged a robust $7,975 per theater and has a cume to date of approximately $2.7 million. Amelie expands to 250 theaters on Wednesday.

Opening this weekend was Artisan's Novocaine, starring Steve Martin, Helena Bonham Carter and Laura Dern. The dark comedy grossed an estimated $425,000 from 105 locations and averaged $4,050 per theater.

USA Films' The Man Who Wasn't There added 82 theaters in its third frame, bringing its count to 251, and grossed an estimated $941,055. The drama has garnered roughly $3.2 million to date. The fifth weekend of Fox Searchlight's Waking Life brought in an estimated $250,000 from 92 venues, an increase of 26 from last weekend, for an estimated total to date of $1.5 million.

The top grossing films last year at this time were Universal's Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas with $55.1 million and Paramount's Rugrats in Paris: The Movie with $22.7 million. The Hollywood Reporter projects the total for all films this weekend to be in the low-to-mid $160 million range, up from last year's $155.1 million.

The national box office for the week ending Nov. 15 was up a stellar 28% from the comparable seven-day period a year ago ($170.4 million vs. $133.4 million). The year-to-date total is running nearly 11% ahead of last year at this time ($6.95 billion vs. $6.28 billion), while year-to-date admissions hold a 6% advantage.

--Brian Fuson for The Hollywood Reporter

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