The Blockbuster Producers

Joe Pugliese

David Heyman & Lorenzo di Bonaventura

Do sequels have to get worse with every consecutive one? No. Sometimes, they get better. Exhibit A: Heyman, 50, and di Bonaventura, 54, oversaw the two hugely popular blockbusters that dominated the year's box-office charts. Warner Bros.' Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the eighth and final installment in the franchise based on the wizardly books of J.K. Rowling, outdid its seven predecessors by grossing $381 million at the domestic box office to become 2011's top movie. Paramount's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third entry in the saga of warring space robots based on the Hasbro toy line, was close behind with a $352 million domestic take.

But that was nothing compared to the movies' enormous international appeal: Both more than tripled their box office abroad. Potter climbed to No. 3 on the list of all-time worldwide top grossers with $1.328 billion, and the third Transformers rose to No. 4 with $1.123 billion. The only two ranked above them are the mighty Avatar and previous chart-topper Titanic.

"Once you get over $500 million, $600 million, it's such a stratospheric thing, it stops being real and stops being a real number," admits Transformers' di Bonaventura, quickly adding, "It's very satisfying, though, and it's cool to be in the top 10 movies of all time." "But," interjects Potter's Heyman, "we also know that's only temporary." Says di Bonaventura with a laugh, "Because Jim Cameron will make another movie, and everyone will come down a notch."

Both producers' movies reached for and achieved new levels in visual effects -- in fact, Heyman winces at how relatively primitive the first Potter films now look. And they plunged moviegoers into richly imagined 3D environments, proving that technology is more than a gimmick. And everyone noticed. The reviews of Hallows 2 read like valedictories, praising the unprecedented accomplishment of keeping the cast together for a decade while telling a story that grew deeper and more perilous as the stakes at Hogwarts turned to life and death. And as the latest Transformers grew more wildly kinetic, even some high-end critics surrendered, with The New York Times' A.O. Scott acknowledging a "visual imagination that is at once crazily audacious and ruthlessly skillful."

For Heyman, the Potter series is over, and setting more box-office records will become an even bigger challenge. He's working on Alfonso Cuaron's outer-space survival tale Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. But di Bonaventura, among myriad other projects, is exploring the possibility of a fourth Transformers with director Michael Bay. "We're not quite going to do a complete reboot," he says, "but our goal is to create another group of characters that can continue to sustain it."

Photographed by Joe Pugliese on Dec. 11 at di Bonaventura's Brentwood home.

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