'Harry Potter' tops boxoffice

Outpaces predecessor 'Phoenix's' opening

'Harry Potter' is magic overseas

Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" filled its boxoffice cauldron considerably higher during the weekend, but the action-fantasy's most heated support came earlier in a five-day debut.

The effects-filled sequel conjured $79.5 million in Friday-Sunday magic to fly to the top of the domestic rankings. That raised the PG-rated pic's front-loaded cume to a franchise-best $159.7 million since a Wednesday launch.

Universal's R-rated comedy "Bruno" marked a much less fashionable session. The Sacha Baron Cohen starrer fell a bruising 73% from its opening-weekend tally to register $8.4 million in fourth place and shape a 10-day cume of $49.6 million.

Fox's leggy 3D animated feature "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" was second on the frame with $17.7 million, producing a $152 million cume through three weekends. Paramount's boxoffice behemoth "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" finished third with $13.8 million and a $363.9 million cume through four sessions.

The weekend top 10's $137 million in industry boxoffice represented a 39% decline compared with the same frame a year ago, Nielsen EDI said. That's when Warners debuted its Batman behemoth "The Dark Knight" with $158.4 million.

In a limited bow, Fox Searchlight unspooled the romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer," starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in 27 sites in 10 markets, grossing $837,500. That represented an auspicious $37,000 a site before this weekend's scheduled expansion into upward of 75 locations.

Elsewhere, Summit Entertainment and Maple expanded Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker" by 34 theaters for a total of 93 and grossed $764,000, or a solid $8,215 per venue, as its cume hit $2.2 million.

Miramax added 18 playdates for a total of 191 for Stephen Frears' Michelle Pfeiffer starrer "Cheri," grossing $292,000, or a thin $1,540 per engagement, with a $2 million cume.

And Sony Pictures Classics added three locations for a total of nine for its African-concert documentary "Soul Power," grossing $20,952, or a so-so $2,328 per site, with cume of $56,969.

"Prince" registered $237 million from 85 foreign territories since Wednesday for worldwide cume totaling $396.7 million, the biggest five-day overseas tally ever.

The sixth in a series of films based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, "Prince" drew domestic audiences that were 57% female, with 40% of audiences under 18. Its weekend performance outpaced prerelease forecasts for the frame but fell short of more heated projections produced after its record $22.2 million haul from 3,000 midnight performances Wednesday.

As things turned out, the witching-hour frenzy likely was prompted in part by Warners' decision to delay the pic's release from November to July, but execs were ecstatic the first five days had gone so well.

"I love this opening," Warners domestic distribution boss Dan Fellman said. "The first five days of this picture were bigger than the opening week of any other Harry Potter movie."

Boxoffice was boosted by "Prince's" playing in three high-grossing Imax auditoriums in the U.S. -- a domestic expansion of specialty venues is set for July 29 -- and 57 international locations. "Prince" pulled in $232,000 from Imax screens in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, an amazing $77,430 per site.

"We're off to the races," Imax Filmed Entertainment chief Greg Foster said.

Warners split the Harry Potter series' final book into two films: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One" is set for set to open Nov. 19, 2010, and "Part Two" is scheduled for July 15, 2011. David Yates, a longform-TV director in England before helming 2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," lensed "Prince" and returns for both parts of "Deathly Hallows."

"Prince" ultimately will be measured against the theatrical performances of previous Potter pics, ranging upward from the $249.5 million domestic cume registered by 2004's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" to 2001's still-best tally of $317.6 million by franchise starter "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." The most recent previous release in the franchise, "Phoenix," fetched $292 million domestically and $646.2 million internationally.

The toughest comparison for "Prince" and Warners will be last summer's "Dark Knight," which rang up $533 million domestically. That's almost certainly a boxoffice bridge too far, despite leggy prospects for "Prince."

But you won't catch execs complaining: The "Prince" coin pushed Warners past $1 billion in domestic boxoffice for the ninth consecutive year. It's the second studio to pass that mark, following Paramount's billion-dollar charge.

Looking ahead, a diverse array of film competition looms, with three wide openers set for Friday: Warners' R-rated horror film "Orphan"; Disney's Jerry Bruckheimer-produced family action comedy "G-Force," featuring a mix of a CGI and live action; and Sony's romantic comedy "The Ugly Truth," starring Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler.

Sony offered "Truth" sneaks at 160 locations to audiences filled upward of 90% capacity and skewing young and female.
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