Poof! Harry Potter Back in Class

Harry Potter's got his work cut out for him to match his box-office grades from freshman year.

The boy wizard's second film adventure, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, opens Friday on even more screens in more theaters than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone did a year ago.

But it may face a bit of a sophomore jinx. Distributor Warner Bros. concedes Chamber of Secrets may have a hard time equaling the $90.3 million opening weekend of Sorcerer's Stone.

"There was such an anticipation for the opening of the first one that it would really be extremely difficult and unrealistic that we could open to a number quite that large," said Dan Fellman, Warner's head of domestic distribution.

As they did for Sorcerer's Stone, night owls lined up Thursday night for the earliest screenings, a minute after midnight, although with somewhat less frenzy this time and perhaps in smaller numbers. At the Times Square Loews, where the film was showing on two screens, tickets were still available shortly before midnight.

"Last time there were thousands of people, it seemed like," said Jeff Duncan, 25, of Manhattan, who arrived with two friends to see the first showing, just as he did for Sorcerer's Stone. Fearing a sellout, he had bought his tickets in advance.

Sorcerer's Stone held the record for best opening-weekend gross until Spider-Man rolled in last spring with a $114.8 million debut.

Adapted from the second of J.K. Rowling's best-selling books, Chamber of Secrets follows Harry through year two at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where he has a rematch with the evil conjurer who killed his parents.

Chamber of Secrets will open in a record 3,682 theaters, 10 more than Sorcerer's Stone, and play on a record 8,500 screens, up about 400 over the first film.

While it may not break cash records, early reviews generally are calling Chamber of Secrets a better movie than Sorcerer's Stone. That's a sign the new film may have more staying power and eventually exceed the $317.6 million total taken in by Sorcerer's Stone.

"We've seen a lot of sequels besting their predecessors lately," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "Everyone's saying this one's better, so the buzz is there."

Fandango's advance sales for Chamber of Secrets were running comparable to those for Sorcerer's Stone, Levitt said.

Warner Bros. has tried hard to ensure that Harry Potter works the same magic again. Child stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint returned for part two, along with key adult cast members and director Chris Columbus.

The filmmakers again followed the text of Rowling's novel as inclusively as possible, producing a two hour, 41 minute movie — long by family-film standards.

Special effects are improved, and Columbus injects more action and a darker tone into Chamber of Secrets.

"I knew we wanted to get it darker and edgier and more intense, more exciting. The first one had 45 minutes of introduction. This film, we got into the story" right away, Columbus said.

The sequel also is opening in eight other countries Friday. It will be on about 1,270 screens in Great Britain, up about 70 over Sorcerer's Stone, and on nearly 1,000 in France, up from 900 for the first film, said Veronika Kwan-Rubinek, Warner's head of international distribution.