Muggles rise en masse

'Potter' rakes in $44.2 mil for Wednesday mark

Warner Bros. Pictures' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" worked its magic at the boxoffice Wednesday.

The fifth feature in the franchise, which bowed in 4,181 theaters, grossed an estimated $44.23 million at the North American boxoffice for the day, including $12 million from midnight screenings. That earned the movie the title of biggest Wednesday opening ever, trumping the previous record-holder, Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 2," which bowed to a single-day gross of $40.4 million in 2004.

The "Phoenix" opening also bested the $40.1 million first-day gross of 2005's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the previous best first-day gross for any of the Potter movies, though in that case opening day was a Friday.

On the international front, the movie's Wednesday bow grossed another $29.2 million from six countries in Europe, eight Asia Pacific territories and Brazil.

There will be no cliffhanger this coming weekend. "Phoenix," which will be installed in 4,285 theaters — Warners' widest opening ever — is destined to dominate the frame, and no other wide release except for the R-rated "Captivity," playing in a far more limited 1,050 locations, is looking to stake out a fresh position in the marketplace.

The only question surrounding "Phoenix," as it was with last weekend's chart-topper "Transformers," is how big it will be.

With its PG-13 rating, "Phoenix," directed by David Yates and adapted for the screen by Michael Goldenberg, reflects author J.K. Rowling's book series in that its atmosphere is darker and the gathering forces of the evil Lord Voldemort (a proboscis-free Ralph Fiennes) are growing ever more threatening. So this time out, Harry might not attract some of the youngest moviegoers. On the other hand, a generation of fans have grown up along with principal actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson and can be counted on to continue to support the franchise.

Most of the Potter movies have opened on a Friday in November; their opening weekends have ranged from $88.3 million for "Chamber of Secrets" in 2002 to $102.6 million for "Goblet of Fire" in 2005. "Prisoner of Azkaban" in 2004 is the only previous title to launch in the summer — it bowed to $93.7 million in June 2004, and with a final domestic gross of $249.5 million, it was the lowest-grossing film in the series in North America.

The three-day weekend number for "Phoenix" won't equal those levels because its Wednesday opening will have siphoned off some of the most rabid fans who had to see the film right away. But the film could well head into the weekend with $60 million or more and see a three-day gross that could range from $70 million-$90 million.

Warners is trying to steer expectations conservatively, but a five-day gross above $125 million appears a fait accompli, and a number in the $140 million range appears realistic. At the moment, the top five-day gross for a movie that opened on a Wednesday is "Spider-Man 2," with $152.4 million. (As it happened, that movie's fifth day of release, a Sunday, also happened to fall on the Fourth of July holiday). "Phoenix" might not hit that mark, but it surely will be looking to conjure up something close.

Meanwhile, "Transformers" will necessarily segue into the second spot overall at the weekend boxoffice. Having taken in $70.5 million the previous weekend, the film, if it falls about 50%, could capture another $35 million or so as it climbs above the $200 million mark.

Buena Vista Pictures' animated "Ratatouille," which has been holding strong, will lose some of its younger audience to "Phoenix." The Disney/Pixar film collected $29 million the previous weekend, and so this frame it probably will check in around the high-teen millions range.

Amid the boxoffice competition, After Dark Films' "Captivity" isn't likely to have a major impact. The thriller, from director Roland Joffe, stars Elisha Cuthbert and Daniel Gillies as a couple who are kidnapped and tortured. The film earned a certain notoriety in March, when it was disciplined for posting gruesome billboards that hadn't been approved by the MPAA. As a result, the organization reprimanded After Dark by suspending the ratings process on the film by a month, which resulted in "Captivity" backing off its originally targeted May 18 release date.

Although After Dark first planned to release the film through Lionsgate Films, it now going out through Freestyle Releasing. But hard-R horror films have not met with audience favor of late: "Hostel: Part II" opened to $8.2 million in 2,350 theaters in June, and "Captivity," on fewer than half as many screens, probably will debut somewhere below the $5 million mark.

On the limited front, Focus Features will introduce the R-rated "Talk To Me," a 1970s-set drama from director Kasi Lemmons in which Don Cheadle plays Washington radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene. The Yari Film Group will offer up the PG-13 "Shortcut to Happiness," starring Alec Baldwin in a modern-day retelling of "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Sony Pictures Classics will launch the R-rated "Interview," starring and directed by Steve Buscemi. IFC Films will shepherd two films, Gerardo Naranjo's "Drama/Mex" and Patrice Leconte's "My Best Friend."

MGM's "Rescue Dawn," which bowed the previous weekend in six theaters, will move into 38 theaters in North America. Lionsgate's release of the Weinstein Co.'s "Sicko" will move into 756 theaters. Fox Searchlight's "Joshua" and Warner Independent Pictures' "Introducing the Dwights" also will increase their footprints.
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