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Movie projector: More than 4,500 midnight shows sold out as 'Harry Potter' aims for the record books

July 14, 2009 |  4:54 pm

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 Remember those records "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" set its first week at the box office in June? Its days may already be numbered.

Massive amounts of interest in pre-release audience polling and more than 4,500 sold-out midnight screenings via ticketing websites Fandango and MovieTickets.com point to a record-breaking opening Wednesday for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" in the U.S. and Canada.

"Everything is looking sensational," says Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

The sixth "Harry Potter" picture cost $250 million to produce and an additional $155 million to market and distribute around the globe, meaning a huge box office is necessary if it is going to turn a profit.

Precise box office predictions are difficult for films tracking in the upper stratosphere with every audience segment. According to executives who have seen the survey data for "Potter," however, it has a good shot at beating the all-time domestic record for Wednesday ticket sales of $62 million set last month by "Revenge of the Fallen."

By Sunday, it could exceed that film's $200.1-million gross from Wednesday through Sunday, the most ever during that time frame.

The new "Potter" movie's best chance at breaking records, however, comes at the stroke of 12. The highest amount of money ever earned from midnight shows is $18.5 million, a mark set by "The Dark Knight." As of Tuesday afternoon, Fandango had sold out more than 2,500 midnight shows for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," more than "The Dark Knight" last year, while MovieTickets.com midnight sell-outs exceeded 2,000. Both sites rank it as their No. 3 biggest advance ticket seller of all time.

The movie is almost certain to open bigger than "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which hit theaters July 11 two years ago and is the only other picture in the series to start on a Wednesday. It earned $44.2 million on its first day and $139.7 million through that Sunday.

That film, like its predescessor, was rated PG-13. However “Half-Blood Prince” is, like the first three movies in the series, PG. That means it could play to a somewhat broader audience, although all indications are that parents took all but the youngest children to see the last two “Potter” flicks despite their ratings.

The only thing that could hold back "Harry" is a lack of Imax theaters. While "The Dark Knight" played in 94 of the big-screen venues and "Transformers" in 169, "Half-Blood Prince" is in only three. When Warner Bros. delayed the movie from last November to this week, it landed in a period when most Imax screens are still contracted to "Revenge of the Fallen."

With their higher ticket prices, Imax screens can be very lucrative. "Transformers" earned $14.4 million from Imax in its first five days.

Warner Bros. will get back most of the Imax screens currently playing "Transformers" the week after next.

It is also debuting this week in every major international territory, where the film will probably earn even more money. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" sold $646.2 million worth of tickets overseas, 69% of its worldwide total.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Jullian Lawson, 21, as Lavender Brown, left, and Daniel Hurst, 22, as Harry Potter, with their tickets for Tuesday night's premier of 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' at CityWalk, Universal City, Calif.
Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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