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The box-office wizard has outdone himself.
Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 conjured an estimated $125.1 million in domestic box office for a franchise-best bow and the eighth-best opening weekend ever.
A $61.2 million Friday, including a record $24 million from midnight performances, prompted brief speculation about an even higher weekend tally. But the action fantasy slid 37% on Saturday lacking similar midnight money, and Warners penciled in another decline for Sunday.
Still, the opening was on the high end of pre-release expectations, and Hallows: Part 1 has a good shot at mounting a year’s-best theatrical run if the film maintains momentum through the upcoming Thanksgiving span and beyond. The first of two movies based on the seventh and final book in the Potter series, Hallows: Part 1 is widely touted to collect more than $400 million domestically; Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3 is the top-grossing release of 2010 so far with $415 million.
The last Potter picture — July 2009 opener Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — conjured $77.8 million during its first three days and $302 million in total U.S. and Canadian coin. The franchise marked its previous best opening in November 2005, when Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire debuted with $102.7 million, while the $317.6 million fetched by the original Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone remains its biggest domestic total to date.
The first six Potter movies together collected a stunning $5.4 billion in worldwide box office.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is set to open next July 15, with Warners planning to release the franchise-capper in 3D. The studio reversed an earlier decision to go 3D with Part 1 due to insufficient time for a quality conversion from 2D.
Eventually, all of the Potter pics will be converted to 3D for limited theatrical re-release and a big push in the Blu-ray Disc home-entertainment format.
“I don’t think a wide theatrical re-release could sustain the costs of a modern marketing campaign,” Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said.
Opening audiences for Hallows: Part 1 skewed 57% female, with 51% of patrons under age 25.
“One of the greatest accomplishments here is that we have been able to age the franchise,” Fellman said. “We have been able to keep our fan base as the characters have aged and the movies have become darker. And the three main actors have become really terrific, adult actors.”
Produced for an estimated $150 million, Hallows: Part 1 was directed by David Yates — who also helmed Prince — and features Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and the other Potter cast regulars.
Part 1 also unspooled in 91 foreign territories during the past week and has registered $205 million in international box office.
Some 340 high-grossing Imax specialty venues contributed a company-record $16.6 million to the worldwide Potter tally. Hallows: Part 1 fetched $12.4 million from 239 Imax venues in the U.S. and Canada and $4.2 million from 101 international sites.
“I’m thrilled that we broke records with Harry Potter, because we have been a part of the franchise since Harry Potter 3,” Imax Filmed Entertainment president Greg Foster said. “We’re Harry Potter people.”
Elsewhere this weekend, Lionsgate’s Russell Crowe starrer The Next Three Days opened with a disappointing $6.8 million in fifth place. Helmed by Crash director Paul Haggis, the PG-13 action thriller attracted audiences comprised 55% of females, with 83% of patrons aged 25 or older.
“It was a disappointing start, but because of the older audience make-up and their movie-going habits we are hopeful the film will have solid playability,” Lionsgate distribution topper David Spitz said.
The 3D animated feature Megamind, from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount, took the weekend’s silver medal, raking in another $16.2 million to push its cume to $109.5 million through three weekends in release. Fox’s Denzel Washington starrer Unstoppable finished third, as a 42% drop from its opening tally yielded a $13.1 million weekend and a $42 million cume.
Paramount dramedy Morning Glory fell 43% in its sophomore session to $5.2 million in sixth place with a $19.9 cume, and Universal/Rogue’s scifi thriller Skyline tumbled 71% to $3.4 million in seventh with a 10-day cume of $17.6 million.
Collectively, top-10 finishers in the the holiday box-office season’s first frame rung up $185.3 million. That was 25% less than top performers in a comparable frame last year topped by The Twilight Saga: New Moon.
Among the latest limited openers, Sony Pictures Classics unspooled British dramedy Made in Dagenham in two New York theaters and one in L.A. to register $41,112, or an encouraging $13,704 per venue.
And IFC Films bowed White Material — a French-language drama set in Africa — in two New York locations and one in Chicago to gross $36,300, or a solid $12,100 per site.
In a notable expansion, Fox Searchlight’s mountain-climbing survival drama 127 Hours added 86 playdates for a total 108 and grossed $914,596. That represented a sturdy $8,468 per engagement ahead of a planned further expansion to 200-plus locations for the coming weekend.
Four pictures open wide on Wednesday ahead of Thanksgiving. Those include: Disney’s 3D animated feature Tangled, Fox’s romantic comedy Love and Other Drugs, Sony’s song-and-dance romp Burlesque and CBS Films’ Dwayne Johnson actioner Faster.
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