Wise old men and their young colleagues gave the world all the entertainment it needed this weekend. While 59-year-old, self-proclaimed "geezer" golfer Tom Watson mounted a heroic effort to win the British Open, only to fall short in a four-hole playoff against a much younger rival, that great gray sorcerer Albus Dumbledore led Harry Potter to the biggest opening for any film in the series. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will have taken in nearly $80 million in its Friday-to-Sunday session and about twice that in its first five days. That's not exactly magic of unprecedented immensity, but it's surely wizardry.
The finishing order this weekend
Harry Potter 6
Ice Age 3
might seem like the score of a three-team intergalactic Quidditch match, but it's really a demonstration of the power of sequels. The sixth installment of the Potter series has already earned more than $200 million worldwide probably way, way more, since the week's final international figures won't come out until later on Monday, and the franchise has typically earned nearly 70% of its theatrical coin abroad. The third Ice Age cartoon, Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which has also enjoyed a foreign take in the 70% range, is well past the half-billion-dollar mark in its first 19 days. And that mighty Moloch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen second in a possibly infinite series of testosterone-fueled toy stories is at the three-quarters-of-a-billion mark after 26 days. Numbers like those are the main reason Hollywood's slavish adherence to remaking its biggest hits won't change anytime soon.
Not that boffo grosses come cheap. The Los Angeles Times points out that Half-Blood Prince cost nearly $400 million to make and market. And the studio, Warner Bros., has to share the HP6 revenue with the theaters showing it. But then comes the real money, from DVD and other home-entertainment streams. Everyone connected with the Potter franchise will get very rich; it's the potion that keeps on producing.
Half-Blood began by breaking The Dark Knight's Tuesday-midnight-screenings record ($22.2 million to $18.5 million), then from Wednesday through Saturday calmed down and notched daily grosses in the mid$20 millions. It will finish Sunday night with the year's second highest opening frame, after Transformers 2. Over the five days, Half-Blood Prince didn't come near Revenge of the Fallen's opening $200 million bonanza. But in North America, at least, HP6 may have been seen by nearly as many people; they're just not paying as much to see it. As Nikki Finke notes on her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog: "HP6 with a PG rating is selling more discounted kiddie tickets. And it had virtually no biz from higher priced IMAX theaters: just 3 venues compared to TF2's 169." Not that the moneymen care about the number of tickets sold. Bucks, not bodies, determine box-office winners.
Last week's winner, the shock-mock-doc comedy Brüno, fell a calamitous 73% to about $8.4 million. It's as if the well-liked Borat, the character from Sacha Baron Cohen's previous hit, had come to a party with a new guest "Say hello to my little friend Brüno" and seen him greeted with a hail of bullets. The Friday-Saturday data show that Brüno was not even the top live-action comedy about a non-American who has sex with a man: it finished behind The Proposal, which has been in theaters three weeks longer. (The Sandra Bullock movie was buoyed Friday by screenings in auditoriums also showing sneak previews of next weekend's Katherine Heigl rom-com The Ugly Truth.) Holding even stronger was The Hangover, which cost $35 million to produce and is cruising toward the $250 million domestic mark. Brüno, The Hangover and The Proposal finished within $100,000 of one another, according to industry estimates. Monday's final figures could rearrange the order.
In indie action, the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer had a boffo opening, earning $31,000 per screen for an $838,000 total in a limited opening. Those numbers stoked hopes at Fox Searchlight for a hit of Junoesque proportions: $143 million in North America. But they won't change the business model for Hollywood, which drools over the thought of finding another series of books it can spin into even more movies than the eight Harry Potters. Well, the Old Testament has, by some counts, 46 books, including some internal sequels (1 Kings, 2 Kings). Granted, down around Obadiah, the opportunities for special effects get pretty slim. But who's a greater or more intimidating wizard than Yahweh? He's Harry, Dumbledore and Voldemort rolled into One.
Here are the studios' official weekend estimates for the top 10 movies, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, $79.4 million; $159.7 million, five days
2. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, $17.7 million; $152 million, third week
3. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, $13.8 million; $363.9 million, fourth week
4. Brüno, $8.4 million; $49.6 million, second week
5. The Hangover, $8.3 million; $235.9 million, seventh week
6. The Proposal, $8.3 million; $128.1 million, fifth week
7. Public Enemies, $7.6 million; $79.5 million, third week
8. Up, $3.1 million; $279.6 million, eighth week
9. My Sister's Keeper, $2.8 million; $41.5 million, fourth week
10. I Love You, Beth Cooper, $2.7 million; $10.3 million, second week