'Harry Potter' Potent with $88.4 Million Weekend
Attendance at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy may be down 3% from last year, but the classrooms are still overcrowded.

Despite lacking the media frenzy surrounding his first adventure, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets cast an $88,357,488 spell over the weekend, beating Warner Bros. estimate by $667,000. That's just a smidgen less than the $90,294,621 that Sorcerer's Stone posted on the same frame last year. It's also the third biggest opening ever behind Spider-Man's $114,844,116 and the first Potter.

Chamber of Secrets achieved its lofty gross on a whopping 8,515 screens at 3,682 theaters, the widest opening release ever. Sorcerer's Stone was the previous record holder playing on 8,119 screens at 3,672 theaters. Chamber averaged $23,997 per site, slightly less than Stone's $24,590.

"We wanted to be conservative," said an overjoyed Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' executive VP and general sales manager of domestic distribution. "We were hoping to get into the mid-$70 million range. That would have been a grand slam."

Breaking the weekend down, the picture conjured $29,631,453 on Friday and jumped 15.5% to $34,213,803 on Saturday. Based on that Friday gross, Warner Bros. thought they were headed for a little over $80 million, but the Saturday bump up took them by surprise. After all, Sorcerer's Stone went from $32,333,203 on Friday to $33,512,941 on Saturday, a modest 3.6% increase. On Sunday, Chamber eased 28.4% to $24,512,232, comparable to Stone's 27.0% dip to $24,448,477. So despite an overall lower weekend, Chamber actually topped Stone on days two and three.

Chamber's opening day stands as the fourth biggest ever behind Spider-Man's $39,406,872, the first Potter and Attack of the Clones' $30,141,417. Among all days, its Saturday tally ranks third, eclipsed by only Spidey's $43,622,264 first Saturday and its opening day.

According to opening night audience tracker CinemaScore, Chamber of Secrets garnered an A+ from moviegoers compared to the A that Sorcerer's Stone earned. Warner Bros.' exit polling had 91% of moviegoers rating the picture either "excellent" or "very good."

Demographically, Chamber of Secrets was a near clone of Sorcerer's Stone. Parents and their children made up 60% of the audience, while 60% of moviegoers were under the age of 15. Gender-wise, the audience was pretty much equally split, only slightly skewing female.

Adding to the impressiveness of Chamber of Secrets bow was the lack of the sheer media frenzy the first picture generated. "There was no loud, thunderous buzz from the media," Goldstein pointed out. "It was the public themselves. That's why it was difficult to project."

Though the media was paying less attention, Warner Bros. was not. Goldstein noted that the studio pumped up the marketing campaign to keep the franchise thriving, eclipsing the $40 million spent to promote Sorcerer's Stone. Chamber of Secrets may have cost less to actually make, though, with a reported $100 million budget compared to the first picture's $125 million, although studio confirmation was unavailable at press time.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone went on to earn $317,575,550 (not to mention another $650 million overseas), or about 3.5 times its $90,294,621 first weekend. Should Chamber of Secrets follow a similar trajectory, it would also reach the $300 million milestone. Even if it falls prey to the frontloadedness sequels usually exhibit, it's likely headed to at least $270 million. Goldstein noted that the picture should get extra play from Thanksgiving landing on its third weekend as opposed to its second like with Sorcerer's Stone, a calendar quirk in the movie's favor.

Before anyone tries to write off Harry Potter because of the sequel's potentially lower gross, keep in mind that it's natural for the first entry of a series of this caliber to also be the most popular. The first Star Wars, for instance, is by far the No. 1 movie in that franchise. What's more, sequels to family flicks almost invariably make less than their predecessors, such was the case with Home Alone 2, Spy Kids 2, Dr. Dolittle 2 and many others. Often they gross less than 50% as in the cases of Stuart Little 2 and 102 Dalmatians. Crossing media, it works the same way in television. For instance, the hyped-up first episode of Friends this season drew 34 million viewers, while the second episode was seen by 29 million.

Sorcerer's Stone struck at the zenith of the Potter phenomenon—the last book released in summer 2000—and had the added benefit of novelty and intense demand to see a big screen adaptation. It's just the nature of the beast that the second movie would make less and not a sign that Potter doesn't have the longevity to sustain more blockbuster movies.

The boy wizard's next adventure Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban goes into production early next year with Y Tu Mama Tambien director at the helm replacing the first two movies' Chris Columbus. It's aiming to hit theaters June 2004.

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