LOS ANGELES – The boy wizard has worked his biggest box-office spell.
"Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (search) charmed audiences to the tune of $92.65 million in its debut weekend, the best results yet for the franchise, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"I guess audiences are still crazy about Harry," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., the studio behind the franchise based on J.K Rowling's fantasy series.
"Harry Potter" bumped off "Shrek 2," which had been the No. 1 flick the previous two weekends. "Shrek 2" came in second with $37 million, lifting its three-week total to $313.6 million and putting it in striking distance of "Finding Nemo," the top grossing animated movie ever at $339.7 million.
The global disaster thriller "The Day After Tomorrow," (search) which debuted a strong No. 2 over Memorial Day weekend, fell to third place with $28.15 million to push its 10-day total to $128.8 million.
"Harry Potter," "Shrek 2" and "Day After Tomorrow" have turned around what had been an anemic early summer season for Hollywood. Before "Shrek 2" opened, early summer revenues were down 25 percent from last year's. Summer revenues now are running 6 to 7 percent ahead, while the box office so far this year is up about 5 percent over 2003's pace.
Still to come is summer's most anticipated movie, "Spider-Man 2" on June 30, with a rush of potential hits to follow, including "The Bourne Supremacy," "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement."
"What a difference a few weeks have made," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations (search). "This could actually be the perfect summer trajectory. Instead of a big start, stalling in the middle and a weak finish, like we usually have, we could have a weak start, a big middle and a strong finish."
The top 12 movies this weekend took in $180.9 million, up 15.6 percent from the same weekend last year.
No other big movies opened against "Harry Potter" as other studios stayed out of the way of a franchise whose first two installments totaled nearly $600 million domestically.
"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" launched the series in November 2001 with a $90.3 million debut on its way to a $317.6 million total. A year later, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" opened with $88.4 million, finishing at $262 million.
"Prisoner of Azkaban" was the franchise's first summer release and was the best-reviewed of the three movies. The movie reunites Daniel Radcliffe (search) as Harry with Rupert Grint (search) and Emma Watson (search) as his allies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as they unravel the mystery of an escaped sorcerer (Gary Oldman) linked to the deaths of Harry's parents.
Alfonso Cuaron, best known for the racy "Y Tu Mama Tambien," took over as director from Chris Columbus, who made the first two "Harry Potter" flicks. Cuaron delivered a tale with a suitably darker tone as Harry and his pals mature and learn more about the sinister forces working against them.
"What's fabulous about the series is, I think, as the actors have aged, so has the audience, and that's created a bond between them," Fellman said. "The other thing is, as the actors have gotten older, they've gotten better, so the performances are the best yet."
Part four, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," now is filming in London, with Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Mona Lisa Smile") directing. The movie is scheduled for release in November 2005.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," $92.65 million.
2. "Shrek 2," $37 million.
3. "The Day After Tomorrow," $28.15 million.
4. "Raising Helen," $6.7 million.
5. "Troy," $5.7 million.
6. "Mean Girls," $2.9 million.
7. "Soul Plane," $2.85 million.
8. "Van Helsing," $2.35 million.
9. "Man on Fire," $1 million.
10. "Super Size Me," $835,000.