Box Office Weekend: Harry Potter Rakes In $168 Million, While Palin Doc Barely Registers

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Warner Bros.

A scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

When Harry met Sarah ... well, let's just say he roared, while she whispered. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the climax to the eight-film franchise from the J.K. Rowling saga, grossed a wizardly $168.55 million, according to early studio reports, to win the box office weekend and quite a few other records besides. Meanwhile, the Sarah Palin documentary The Undefeated, playing on about a dozen screens (compared with DH2's 11,000) in such conservative bastions as Grapevine, Texas; and Orange County, California, amassed perhaps $75,000 — though it's hard to tell because the film's distributor hasn't released actual or estimated totals.

DH2 established new standards for showings at midnight ($43.5 million), on opening day ($92.1 million), over the foreign weekend ($307 million) and over the global weekend ($475.55 million). That means a mammoth mass of Muggles bought tickets, but maybe not the most ever, at least in the U.S. and Canada. In raw numbers, the $168.55 million take beats The Dark Knight's $158.4 million three summers ago, and Spider-Man 3's $151.1 million the year before that; in number of tickets sold, though, it's significantly lower when rising ticket prices are factored in, let alone the surcharges for 3-D and IMAX. In real dollars, the opening-weekend earnings for the Batman sequel would be about $180 million today, and the Peter Parker threequel about $185 million.

Still, nearly a half-billion dollars worldwide is enough loot to fill a Gringotts vault. The accountants at Warner Bros. (which shares the same corporate parent as TIME) must be weeping that a finale can't generate a sequel. Given the fondness of Potterians for this last episode (a solid A rating on CinemaScore), don't be surprised if Warner re-releases the two Deathly Hallows films as a double feature before issuing DH2 on Blu-ray and DVD.

The (very mild) PG-13 DH2 drew kids away from Disney's G-rated reboot of Winnie the Pooh, which earned a meek $8 million its first time around — below the fourth-week earnings of Disney-Pixar's Cars 2. On the indie side, some movies reached milestones. Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life hit the $10 million mark; Buck, the documentary about horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, passed $2 million; and Midnight in Paris, with $41.8 million, became Woody Allen's highest-grossing film ever — again, in raw numbers, not in real dollars.

Raw or real, the weekend take for the Palin doc — which may reach $8,000 per theater — is underwhelming, given the star quality of its subject, the ardor of her admirers and the exposure The Undefeated gleaned on right-wing websites. A blog this weekend quoted the Brisbane Times as reporting that the movie opened in U.S. theaters to "overwhelmingly positive opinion." The Times must have meant "positive" as in "zero," which was the reviewers' rating on Rotten Tomatoes. When a post by a contributor to the Atlantic, noting that he was the only person at a Thursday midnight screening, received widespread coverage, conservatives rose in defense, with John Nolte of Andrew Breitbart's Big Hollywood blog mocking the notion that anyone would see a movie that late on a weeknight — the same time that DH2 was attracting its record haul.

Film critics, of course, are tools of the lamestream media; and the media are appendages of the vast left-wing government-entertainment complex. In a one-two punch to defeat The Undefeated, Hollywood scheduled the Harry Potter film as its competition, and L.A. closed down a portion of the 405, thus keeping Palinites from driving to Orange County theaters. Just two more pages out of the Saul Alinsky playbook.

Mind you, this wasn't a great weekend for indie debuts. Tabloid, a study of seduction at gunpoint from Oscar-winning docmaker Errol Morris, took in a mild $101,000 at 14 theaters. The acclaimed South African drama Life, Above All flopped, with $14,300 at five venues. And despite the lure of Hugh Jackman, the Wolverine himself, crooning in Mandarin, Wayne Wang's Chinese-language Snow Flower and the Secret Fan opened with a discreet $136,000 at 24 sites, or $5,667 per screen.

Yet none of these films boasted the brand recognition and ferocity of appeal that Sarah Palin enjoys. If The Undefeated does eventually bring in a large audience, that'd be fine; political docs shouldn't be a monopoly of the left any more than talk radio should belong to the right. For now, though, Palin's fans have to be wishing she had Harry Potter's appeal. Democrats would probably like Barack Obama to have it too.

[MONDAY UPDATE: In the final weekend grosses reported today, The Undefeated earned $65,132 at 10 theaters, while Tabloid took in $91,201 at 14 sites. The two films’ per-screen averages were virtually identical: Palin at $6,513 and Tabloid at $6,514. Back in the Wizarding World, Potter was even hotter than originally estimated. Deathly Hallows Part 2 ended up with $169.2 million at North American theaters, and the foreign gross $312.3 million, for a greater-than-grand total of $481.5 million worldwide.]

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 2, $168.55 million, first weekend
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon, $21.25 million; $302.8 million, third week
3. Horrible Bosses, $17.6 million; $60 million, second week
4. Zookeeper, $12.3 million; $42.4 million, second week
5. Cars 2, $8.3 million; $165.3 million, fourth week
6. Winnie the Pooh, $8 million, first weekend
7. Bad Teacher, $5.2 million; $88.5 million, fourth week
8. Larry Crowne, $2.6 million; $31.6 million, third week
9. Super 8, $1.9 million; $122.2 million, sixth week
10. Midnight in Paris, $1.9 million; $41.8 million, ninth week