'Potter' feels the magic with $77.1 million debut

Helps boost frame 22% over 2006 figure

The young wizards and witches of Hogwarts Academy took up residence at the North American boxoffice this past weekend, and once again the Harry Potter franchise worked its old boxoffice magic. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth installment in the Warner Bros. Pictures series, easily dominated, capturing $77.1 million for the three-day frame.

While that number fell short of previous Potter opening weekends, that was only because this time around the newest Potter movie opened on a Wednesday instead of the traditional Friday. On its opening day, the PG-13 movie helmed by British director David Yates took in $44.2 million, a record for a Wednesday opening. Before the weekend even kicked off, the film had captured $62.6 million; and with a cumulative domestic gross of $139.7 million as of Sunday, "Phoenix" was on track to post the best first week of any of the Potter titles.

While the Potter movies may have begun as PG adaptations of the books, the series has since moved into darker, PG-13 territory. And as the movie's principal actors — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson — have matured, so has their audience.

According to CinemaScore's sampling of the opening-weekend crowd, 33% of the Potter fans were under 18. Some of them, of course, were accompanied by parents. Even so, with 53% of the crowd over the age of 25, there also was a sector of adults who attended without benefit of children. Overall, moviegoers gave the movie a solid A- rating.

Even with "Phoenix" dominating the multiplex — it was playing in a super-wide 4,285 locations — DreamWorks/Paramount's "Transformers" and Buena Vista's "Ratatouille" held their own.

In its second weekend, Michael Bay's robot movie fell by a respectable 47% as it took in an additional $37.1 million, raising its domestic tally to $224 million.

In its third weekend, director Brad Bird's animated ode to the culinary arts slipped just 38% as it feasted on an additional $18.1 million, bringing its cume to nearly $143 million.

As a result, the boxoffice registered an uptick over the comparable weekend in 2006 when Buena Vista's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" commanded the seas for the second weekend in a row with a chart-topping $62.3 million. The 110 films tracked this weekend by The Hollywood Reporter collectively grossed $181.3 million, up 22% over the $159.1 million collected during the comparable weekend last year.

Not every movie shared in the audience largesse, though. The R-rated "Captivity," the weekend's other new wide release, found few takers. Directed by Roland Joffe and produced by After Dark Films, which turned to Freestyle Releasing to handle the film's rollout, the tale of a woman and a man who are kidnapped and tortured didn't prove to be summertime escapism. Playing in 1,061 theaters, the movie grossed just $1.5 million, landing outside the top 10 in 12th place.

Steering a steadier course, Michael Moore's documentary "Sicko," which continues to garner plenty of press coverage, hung on to the ninth spot for the second week running. The film, which Lionsgate is distributing for the Weinstein Co., added $2.6 million to its coffers, which currently stand at $15.8 million, a more-than-respectable figure for a documentary, though it now appears "Sicko" isn't likely to enjoy the runaway success of Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Among new specialty film arrivals, Focus Features' "Talk to Me," starring Don Cheadle, found a receptive hearing in 33 theaters, where it grossed $402,000 for a per-screen average of $12,182.

On a per-screen basis, IFC Films did even better with "My Best Friend," the latest feature from French director Patrice Leconte. It grossed $45,246 in three theaters for a per-screen average of $15,082.