'Harry Potter' propels Warners to top of '09 b.o.

Paramount in second; 'Avatar,' 'Chipmunks' strong for Fox

Harry Potter's broom was turbo-charged this year, as the schoolboy wizard's latest film adventure helped Warner Bros. fly well north of $2 billion to repeat atop the annual domestic boxoffice rankings.

Warners projects a $2.99 billion domestic tally and nearly 20% market share through Dec. 31. But as certain as the picture is at the pinnacle of year-end rankings, other top positions remain cloaked in uncertainty.

Headed into the final frame, Paramount sits second with $1.44 billion and a 14% share, while Sony is third with $1.43 billion and a similar share. But Fox, with $1.25 billion (12%), has holiday tentpoles "Avatar" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" still going strong enough to give the it a real shot at one of the medal positions.

Warners -- also ringing up lots of loot with recently released "Sherlock Homles" -- used the heftiest slate in Hollywood to nail down its repeat roost atop domestic rankings. Warners had 36 films in the market this year, including 27 new pics released in '09.

Its winning ways this year featured nine No. 1 openings and 12 weekends in which its pics topped boxoffice rankings, both annual bests.

"Breaking through a barrier like the $2 billion market -- that really makes a statement that I'm proud to be a part of," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said. "It just doesn't happen that easily. You really need to have a terrific schedule of great movies, as we have under film group president Jeff Robinov."

Warners repeating its domestic domination also adds luster to the company profile of Warners marketing maven Sue Kroll, a onetime international topper promoted in January 2008 to oversee worldwide marketing operations.

In fact, the continued rise in Warners' film revenue should ingratiate the entire studio team to corporate leaders at Time Warner. Consider that in 2006 Warners rang up $1.06 billion domestically, while this year the studio will reap well more than that just in film rentals.

Other big performers for Warners included R-rated comedy "The Hangover" -- a $277 million phenom -- and overachieving Sandra Bullock starrer "The Blind Side," at $185 million and counting.

The New Line production label has been terrifically successful since having its distribution shift to Warners, with 2009 hits including romantic comedy "He's Just Not That Into You" ($94 million) and a 3D installment in the "Final Destination" horror franchise ($66.5 million).

Elsewhere among the year-end studio rankings, Fox is finishing the year with a strong kick in the home stretch. But Par socked away most of its boxoffice booty during the summer, including a mind-bending $402 million performance by the DreamWorks-produced action sequel "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," which hit multiplexes June 24.

Sony got the earliest of jumps on the year with the shockingly successful $146 million run by Jan. 16 opener "Paul Blart: Mall Cop."

Lower down the rankings, Disney totes a $1.18 billion tally for a less than 12% share, featuring a $293 million contribution from Pixar's latest hit, "Up."

And Universal is the studio most anxious to turn the page on the calendar to 2010, with a disappointing $862 million in domestic boxoffice (8%).

Fans of the "Twilight" vampire-romance franchise helped Summit Entertainment topped minimajor performances for the year with $472.5 million through Dec. 27 (5%). The first fanged phenom bowed in late 2008 but played well into the new year, and sequel "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" followed that $193 million domestic success with a $281 million theatrical run.

Fox Searchlight topped specialty distributors with $256 million so far (3%) in a relatively quiet year for the segment. Searchlight's "(500) Days of Summer" grossed $32.4 million domestically.

On an industrywide basis, distribs and exhibs have traveled north of $10 billion for the first time and also are likely to best their year-earlier admissions comparison. The boxoffice year ends Sunday.

The '09 boxoffice year began Jan. 5 and will feature one extra weekend than last year, due to fluctuations in the boxoffice calendar. Nielsen EDI starts its boxoffice year on the first business day after New Year's weekend, which for the coming year will be Monday.