If Hollywood moguls needed final proof that the movie franchise is king and that the venerable notion of star power is kaput, they found it by glancing at the weekend's box-office numbers. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 bludgeoned the competition, and Russell Crowe, who starred in the only other big new film opening this weekend, had the bloodiest face of all. The erstwhile Cinderella Man got knocked out of the ring.
According to early studio estimates, DH1 will have earned $125.1 million in its first three days in North American theaters. That's 23% higher than the previous best Potter opening, last year's Half-Blood Prince, and the sixth best debut ever. (Without adjusting for inflation, that is. In terms of the number of tickets sold, this weekend lagged behind the opening of the first episode, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, back in 2001.) The $205 million the Potter film picked up abroad, including a record U.K. weekend at $28 million, is the fourth highest all-time figure, with Half-Blood Prince still the champ at $236 million.
The Potter party began midnight Thursday, with séances that pulled in $24 million the third biggest sleepover in this new blockbuster tradition, after the Eclipse and New Moon episodes of The Twilight Saga. There must have been a couple of million sleepy kids at school Friday morning because although their older siblings, who grew up with the franchise, are still loyal too most of the opening-weekend audience was under 24. Aiming to meet demand with supply, Warner Bros. opened the film on a gargantuan 9,400 screens. (Gone are the days when some moviegoers hung back to catch up with a movie later, after the mob dissipated; if you wanted to see DH1 this weekend, you could.) Imax played the film on 239 of its screens, contributing a record $12.4 million. All in all, a big haul for Deathly Hallows Part 1. The take for Deathly Hallows Part 2, next July's series windup, should be magical.
Every other picture at the weekend banquet got scraps. In slots 2 to 5 were DreamWorks Animation's 3-D comedy Megamind, continuing nicely at $16.2 million, but which in two and a half very healthy weeks still hasn't earned as much as DH1 did in three days; the Denzel Washington runaway-train drama Unstoppable, at $13.1 million; the buddy-road-trip movie Due Date, with $9.1 million; and The Next Three Days, the new film headlining Washington's nemesis from American Gangster, Russell Crowe. The anemic $6.75 million that Crowe's movie earned in its first weekend which failed to meet the industry's very modest predictions validated a sad suspicion: this macho Australian actor is not a movie star.
Crowe came to American moviegoers' attention in the ensemble cast of the 1997 L.A. Confidential. In 2000 he was the main attraction in the boffo Gladiator ($187 million domestic gross), and a year later carried a much chancier project, A Beautiful Mind, to $170 million domestic. In doing so, he became the only actor to be top-billed in consecutive winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture. (For you Oscar completists, Clark Gable was billed above Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night, which swept the Oscars in 1935, but below Charles Laughton in the 1936 winner, Mutiny on the Bounty. And Walter Pidgeon was at the head of the cast in the 1942 Oscar champ, How Green Was My Valley, but billed behind Greer Garson the following year in Mrs. Miniver.)
With Crowe's rough good looks, his movie magnetism and his uncanny ability to infiltrate the wide range of characters he's played not to mention a pugnacious temperament that often spilled onto the tabloids' front pages he ought to have kept moviegoers queuing for his worthy films. He didn't. After A Beautiful Mind, and discounting the Washington-starring American Gangster, no film with Crowe as its top attraction earned even $100 million domestic until this year's Robin Hood and that one cost twice as much to produce as it earned in North America. Most of his recent films stall at $30 million to $50 million, which is not good news for a man who wants to be paid a star's salary, thus goosing the expenses while the box-office revenue stays stagnant.
An actor will have limited appeal if he appears almost exclusively in dramas, if he appeals only to the minority movie demographic of adults ... and if he's not Denzel Washington. Crowe needs to lighten up in his choice of genres an intelligent romantic comedy would be a smart move and find a hot 20-something to share the screen with. Emma Watson, or Emma Stone, stay near your cell phone. You could be getting a call from Russell Crowe in the next three days.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, $125.1 million, first weekend
2. Megamind, $16.2 million; $109.5 million, third week
3. Unstoppable, $13.1 million; $42 million, second week
4. Due Date, $9.15 million; $72.7 million, third week
5. The Next Three Days, $6.75 million, first weekend
6. Morning Glory, $5.2 million; $19.9 million, second week
7. Skyline, $3.4 million; $17.6 million, second week
8. Red, $2.5 million; $83.6 million, sixth week
9. For Colored Girls, $2.4 million; $34.5 million, third week
10. Fair Game, $1.5 million; $3.7 million, third week