'Potter' plot thickens b.o.  

Five-day total of $140 mil is franchise best

With a few shakes of its magic wand, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" mesmerized the North American boxoffice during the weekend: The PG-13 Warner Bros. Pictures release, playing in a super-wide 4,285 theaters, summoned up an estimated $77.4 million. Since its Wednesday opening, it has levitated to a five-day total of an estimated $140 million.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, After Dark Films' R-rated torture tale "Captivity" barely set off any goose bumps. Playing in 1,050 theaters, the film, directed by Roland Joffe, eked out an estimated $1.6 million, finishing in 12th place overall.

With "Transformers" and "Ratatouille" doing business in the face of the "Phoenix" juggernaut, the weekend's top 10 films grossed an estimated $167.9 million. According to Nielsen EDI, that represents a 14% increase over the comparable weekend a year ago, when Buena Vista Pictures' "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" reigned with $62.3 million in its second weekend, and the comedies "Little Man," from Sony Pictures, and "You, Me and Dupree," from Universal Pictures, entered the market in the second and third spots with $21.6 million and $21.5 million, respectively.

While muggles of the world await the immanent arrival of the seventh and final volume in author J.K. Rowling's series, Pottermania isn't waning as far as the movie versions are concerned. Although "Phoenix" didn't post the biggest three-day number of the series — by bowing on a Wednesday, it lured in some of its most hardcore fans before the weekend began — it did rack up the biggest five-day gross the franchise has seen to date and is on track to score the biggest first week of the bunch.

Based on the five-day total of $140 million, Warners is projecting a first-week take of $162 million. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," the first film in the series, registered a first week of $129 million in 2001. The subsequent installments have done first weeks of $106 million, $123 million and $146 million, respectively.

"Phoenix," directed by David Yates from a screenplay by Michael Goldbenberg, appears to have benefited from its midsummer opening. The previous films mostly debuted on a Friday in November, the exception being "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," which launched on June 4, 2004, before all schools were out for the summer.

"Certainly, our Wednesday opening was a great move," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. "We've never had the ability before to open a 'Potter' movie when all the kids were out of school. We certainly have the potential now for ('Phoenix') to become one of the largest-grossing (in the franchise)."

Demographically, the series' audience appears to be growing up with the film's actors, led by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. "Some of them were 8-year-olds when the first PG 'Potter' movie came out. Now, they driving themselves to midnight shows," Fellman said. "Not only is the audience growing and maturing with the characters, but we're also seeing a newer, younger audience, so we're getting everyone from 8 to 80."

Internationally, the story was much the same: "Phoenix" took in an estimated $190.3 million overseas from 44 territories, bringing its worldwide cume to $330.3 million. In terms of its domestic scorecard, "Phoenix" was second only to 2002's "Spider-Man" on the list of all-time, five-day openers that launched on a Wednesday. But because "Spider-Man" took in its $152.4 million during a July Fourth weekend, "Phoenix" could claim the prize for the best nonholiday, five-day Wednesday opener.

The film's take of $44.2 million did rank as the best Wednesday opening of all time.

"Phoenix" also received a boost from its Imax engagements, where the explosive, 20-minute climax is playing in 3-D. Domestically, "Phoenix" is appearing on 91 Imax screens, where it took in $7.3 million during its first five days. Worldwide, it is booked into 126 Imax theaters and took in an estimated $9.4 million in five days.

In its second weekend, DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures' "Transformers" powered along, attracting an estimated $36 million to secure the second spot overall. The movie held to a respectable 49% decline from its previous frame; in fact, it saw business jump 34% from Friday to Saturday.

"The movie has great playability," DreamWorks spokesman Marvin Levy said. "We're seeing an expansion of the audience to families and everybody else, and we're probably getting some repeat business."

With a cumulative gross of an estimated $223 million, "Transformers" has become director Michael Bay's highest-grossing movie, motoring past 1998's "Armageddon," which grossed $201.5 million. It also is the fifth release of 2007 to cross the $200 million mark.

In third place overall, Buena Vista's release of Pixar Animation Studios' "Ratatouille" dined out on an estimated $18 million, bringing its cume to $143 million. The film is currently running about $10 million or so behind "Cars," last summer's Pixar release, which collected $156.6 million by the end of its third weekend.

In its third weekend, 20th Century Fox's action flick "Live Free or Die Hard" crossed the $100 million mark. The Bruce Willis starrer took in an estimated $7.4 million, raising its domestic tally to an estimated $102.9 million.

Although it has had to surmount a chorus of negative reviews, Warners' comedy "License to Wed" also demonstrated some moxie; in its second weekend, it fell just 29% to land in fifth place overall. It picked up an additional $7.4 million, bringing its cume to $30.5 million. "We found a slot for it as counterprogramming," Fellman said.

In its third week of wide release, Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko" repeated in ninth position. Adding 54 theaters, the film, playing in 756 locations, grossed an estimated $2.7 million, bringing its domestic tally to $15.9 million. The politically charged film, which Lionsgate is distributing for the Weinstein Co., moved ahead of 1991's "Madonna: Truth or Dare" ($15 million) and stands fifth on the list of top docu grossers.

On the limited-release front, Focus Features launched the R-rated "Talk to Me" in 33 theaters. Director Kasi Lemmons' portrait of 1960s radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene (Don Cheadle) grossed an estimated $390,754 for a per-theater average of $11,841.

Sony Pictures Classics' R-rated "Interview," directed by and starring Steve Buscemi, bowed to $41,620 in six theaters for a per-screen average of $6,937. IFC Films' PG-13 "My Best Friend," from French director Patrice Leconte, was introduced in three theaters to an estimated $46,525 for a per-screen average of $15,508.

MGM's wartime drama "Rescue Dawn" added 32 theaters and took in an estimated $357,000 from 38 locations. Its cume to date stands at an estimated $585,994.

For the week ending Thursday, total boxoffice was $324.4 million, down 1% from the $328.1 million accrued during the comparable week a year ago. Year to date, the domestic boxoffice is $5.21 billion, up 4.6% from last year's $4.98 billion. Admissions remain flat.
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