If ever there was a film release almost certain to turn a tidy profit, it would be any Harry Potter movie, and Warner Bros. executives can rest assured that Wednesday's debut of the franchise's sixth installment will pile the grosses high through Sunday. But to understand just how fervently studio insiders will be hoping for a muscular box-office bow by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," consider that this time last year Warners launched a little film called "The Dark Knight" to rather good effect.
No pressure there.
"The reviews are great," Warners domestic distribution president Dan Fellman said with a what-me-worry nonchalance. "I think it's the best Harry Potter picture so far. Certainly, as the cast matures, they keep getting better."
"Potter" movies have carried PG or PG-13 ratings, with "Prince" toting the less-restrictive former designation. As the cast and their book-based characters age, Warners hopes to attract new, younger patrons while continuing to draw older fans of the series.
"Half-Blood Prince" is set for 4,275 U.S. and Canadian locations Wednesday and 50 more beginning Friday, and its screen count runs north of 8,000. A consensus estimate for its first five days in domestic release has it pulling in $140 million or more, with about $100 million of that sum likely to be rung up during the Friday-Sunday span.
Previous Potter pics have posted cumulative domestic grosses ranging upward from the $249.5 million fetched by 2004's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," with 2001 franchise launcher "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" enjoying the series' best domestic take to date: $317.6 million.
'PRINCE' OVER 'PHOENIX'
The most recent release, 2007's "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," registered $292 million domestically and another $646.2 million internationally. "Phoenix" fetched $44 million on its first day and $139.7 million during its first five days. There is broad consensus that "Prince" can best those numbers.
It already has surpassed the franchise-best tally of $12 million in midnight box office posted by "Phoenix." By late afternoon Tuesday, exhibition sources made it clear that advance sales of "Prince" tickets for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday performances were outpacing the witching-hour numbers for its immediate predecessor.
In a sign of just how hot tickets sales have been for "Prince," industryites are whispering that the "Potter" pic has an outside shot at besting the record $18 million midnight box office registered by "The Dark Knight" last July 18. All signs are certainly auspicious, with Fandango and MovieTickets reporting that thousands of performances have already sold out.
"I think they're beatable," Fellman said of the "Phoenix" grosses. "Ticket prices have gone up, and the last time we had the first 'Transformers' opening just five days before us."
That picture's sequel, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," enters its fourth frame this weekend. No other film opens wide domestically this session, and the most prominent second-weekend holdover -- Universal's R-rated comedy "Bruno" -- couldn't have a more distinct target audience from that of "Prince."
Still, there will be no getting away from those batty comparisons: "Dark Knight" fetched $158 million during its first weekend and $533 million overall domestically. The chances of "Prince" matching that are slim to none