How High Will Harry Potter Fly at Box Office?

VIDEO: 'Deathly Hallows Part 1,' the penultimate film in the franchise about the broomstick-riding boy wizard, opens at midnight Thursday.

The broomstick-flying wizard hits multiplexes at midnight Thursday.

Warner Bros. sends out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 -- the first of two movies based on the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling's literary series -- amid expectations of a $100 million-plus weekend and a possible $400 million haul over the length of its theatrical run. [Read THR's review here and watch the trailer here.]

Interpreting tracking data with any certainty is tougher when pictures approach such a rarified range. But it certainly won't hurt if the fantasy epic fetches up to $30 million from roughly 3,700 locations that are programming midnight Thursday performances -- and forecasts suggest as much.

Advance ticket sales have been enormous, with witching hour and other show times sold out in many locations for portions of the weekend. Many locations are essentially programming the picture around the clock during its first day, featuring 3 a.m. performances and other early morning slots.

The previous 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 produced its best opening in November 2005 with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's $102.7 million bow, and the $317.6 million fetched by the original Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone remains its biggest domestic haul.

Warners execs and their partners in exhibition had hoped to bolster grosses for both final installments with 3D play and its premium ticket charges. Hallows Part 2 remains set for conversion into 3D imagery before its July 15 release, but Warners said in the fall it would abandon efforts to release Part 1 in 3D because of insufficient time to achieve a quality 3D conversion.

Still, execs are confident that the seventh Potter pic will more than prove its box-office mettle.

"We've never been in a better place with any Harry Potter film," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellmansaid. "We have a record number of engagements, and advance ticket sales are also a record."

By late Wednesday, Warners had counted more than $27 million in advance ticket sales.

Hallows Part 1 is set for 4,124 domestic playdates, including a record 239 Imax specialty venues. The all-important tentpole also bows in 96 foreign territories, with South Korea and France the only major markets getting Hallows a few weeks later.

Half-Blood Prince helmer David Yates again directs Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and the usual Potter cast in a production costing an estimated $150 million. Early reviews have been auspicious.

Rated PG-13, Hallows Part 1 has a 2:30 running time. That has theater owners stretching their programming schedules to accommodate a sufficient number of daily show times.

Just one other movie opens in wide release this weekend: Lionsgate's Russell Crowe starrer The Next Three Days. Helmed by Paul Haggis (Crash), the PG-13 action thriller is set for 2,564 locations but may struggle to reach double-digit millions through Sunday on support primarily from older moviegoers.

"We'll establish ourselves in the marketplace this weekend and then should benefit from the Thanksgiving play period afterward," Lionsgate distribution boss David Spitz said.

On an industrywide basis, the first weekend of Hollywood's holiday box-office season will be compared with a huge $259 million session last year topped by the $34.1 million bow of The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Year to date, box office is pacing 3% ahead of a similar portion of 2009 at $9.15 billion.