After weeks of movies that were weak on paper let alone in theaters, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire dispelled the year-to-year slump temporarily, posting the biggest opening weekend gross ever outside of May. Including Walk the Line's solid start, overall weekend business was the fourth highest on record with the top 12 pictures generating $172.3 million—a 20 percent improvement over the comparable period last year.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire drew $102.7 million from 3,858 locations, setting a new opening high for the franchise and selling about as many tickets as the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, did out of the gate. The debut marks the fourth $100 million weekend in history, behind Spider-Man's $114.8 million, Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith's $108.4 million and Shrek 2's $108 million.
Warner Bros.' fourth J.K. Rowling adaptation reportedly cost about $150 million to make. The studio's exit polling indicated that 60 percent of the audience was female. Their research also suggested that moviegoers are aging with Harry—42 percent were 17 years old and younger, compared to the 60 percent for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban's opening.
"It's skewing a little older as the books get older," said Warner Bros.' head of distribution, Dan Fellman. "It's just a natural progression. We've been very true to the books with the movies, and the audience is expanding." Adding to Goblet of Fire's buzz was the release of Rowling's latest book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in July. "To have the new book and the movie in the same year is a winning combination," noted Jeff Goldstein, the studio's executive vice president and general sales manager of distribution.
Goblet of Fire promised such trials as the Triwizard Tournament, the return of Potter's main nemesis Lord Voldemort and the most harrowing of them all: a school dance. The marketing emphasized how the lead characters Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Grange (Emma Watson) have grown through the years. Thanks to the quality of the previous three pictures, Goblet of Fire required no ungainly gimmicks—the tagline simply read "The Adventure Continues."
Like Revenge of the Sith earlier this year, Goblet of Fire seems to have benefited from the drought of appealing movies—as if people were waiting for an event worth seeing. Both pictures' grosses were stronger than historical antecedents portended. While the verdict is out for Goblet of Fire's longevity, it's unusual for a franchise to be performing at such high levels four movies in. Prior to Harry Potter, only James Bond, Rocky and Star Trek were in peak form by their fourth outings among blockbuster series.
Ever the worldwide phenomenon, Harry Potter also raked in an estimated $85.5 million from 5,300 prints in 19 countries. It broke several records, including the top three-day openings in the United Kingdom ($25.9 million), Denmark ($2.8 million), Sweden ($2.6 million) and Norway ($2.4 million) and the best four-day opening in Germany ($21.6 million).
"There's nothing wrong with the box office that good content can't fix," Fellman noted. "What with Harry Potter and Walk the Line doing so well."
The movie about the Man in Black is on its way to being in the black. Walk the Line, a music biography about Johnny Cash and June Carter, rustled up a toe-tappin' $22.3 million at 2,961 venues. Distributor 20th Century Fox's $40 million drama starring Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as Carter delivered the top opening of its genre, slightly ahead of last year's Ray.
"It played as well in Waco and Lubbock as it did in New York and Los Angeles," said Bruce Snyder, Fox's head of distribution. "$22 million would have been in the high end of expectations, because [Walk the Line] is for adults who don't run out with the urgency that teens do, and it opened up against Harry Potter. The market expands and expands if you make the pictures people want to see." According to Fox's exit polling, Walk the Line's audience was 57 percent female and 62 percent over 25.
Though never outright blockbusters, pictures about famous musicians often strike a chord with audiences, from Coal Miner's Daughter to La Bamba, and Walk the Line's energetic marketing hit the right notes. It not only delved into what made Johnny Cash indelible but emphasized the lively courtship between him and June Carter, enhanced by the casting of Phoenix and Witherspoon.
Meanwhile, Harry Potter cooked Chicken Little's goose. Last weekend's top grossing picture crumbled 54 percent to $14.7 million, a steeper drop than Monsters, Inc. had opposite the first Harry Potter on its corresponding frame in 2001. Chicken's tally stands at $99.1 million after 17 days.
Major releases generally fell 50 percent or more, but most troubling was Zathura's 62 percent tumble to $5.1 million for a $20.3 million total after 10 days. The $65 million family adventure had the same target audience as Harry Potter but didn't gain enough traction in its first weekend to withstand the wizard's blow.
Pride and Prejudice bucked the trend, slipping 25 percent to $2.1 million with no significant expansion. The Jane Austen adaptation has garnered $6 million in 10 days of limited release and will stroll into over 1,100 locations on Wednesday.
• 11/22/04 - 'National Treasure,' 'SpongeBob' Clean Up
• 11/1/04 - 'Ray,' 'Saw' See Robust Bows
• 6/7/04 - Hotter 'Potter:' Summer Bow Yields Franchise High
• 11/18/02 - 'Chamber of Secrets' Potent with $88M Weekend
• Review - 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'
• Review - 'Walk the Line'
• 'Harry Potter' Showdown
• Music Bios
• Weekend Box Office Results
NOTE: This report was originally published on Sunday, Nov. 20 and was updated on Monday, Nov. 21 with actual grosses and again on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to account for a Harry Potter revision.