Spoiler Alert: Harry Potter didn't defeat just the dark lord Voldemort this weekend. He also defeated the dark Volturi vampires and the Dark Knight. After years of anticipation, the final Potter picture, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2' opened with an estimated $168.5 million, smashing multiple box office records to become one of the biggest debuts ever.
The franchise's final film opened with a bang, scoring $43.5 million in the wee hours Friday morning and easily outstripping the midnight-movie record of $30 million set by the witching-hour debut of 'The Twilight Saga: Eclipse' last summer. By the end of the day Friday, 'Deathly Hallows' had grossed $92.1 million, beating the single-day record of $72.7 million set by 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon' on its opening day in 2009. And as the weekend drew to a close, the film also soared above the last Batman movie, exceeding the $158.4 million premiere of 2008's 'The Dark Knight' to set a new record for a three-day opening weekend.
Pundits expected 'Potter' to break the first two records but not the third; predictions for the whole weekend had topped out around $150 million, with the assumption that the die-hard Potterphiles would front-load the midnight and Friday screenings, leading to a steep drop-off for the rest of the weekend. But according to Warner Bros. (which also released 'The Dark Knight'), that didn't happen. In part, credit is due to the 3D and IMAX 3D screenings (which the Bat-sequel lacked), which Warners said accounted for a robust 43 percent of the total domestic take. On IMAX screens alone, 'Deathly Hallows' earned $15.5 million at 274 venues, another record.
The young wizard also defeated the Decepticons, dethroning 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' after two weeks atop the chart. In second place, it earned an estimated $21.3 million, down 55 percent from last week. That's about what was expected, given the competition from 'Harry Potter,' not just for general audiences, but also for precious 3D and IMAX real estate. With a total of $302.8 million after 19 days of release, 'Transformers' is still the top-earning movie of 2011 (though 'Deathly Hallows' will probably overtake it in the next week or so) and the first this year to earn more than $300 million.
'Horrible Bosses' remained smart counterprogramming against the family-friendly 'Deathly Hallows' At third place, the R-rated comedy slipped just 38 percent in its second weekend, to an estimated $17.6 million, suggesting that it could have legs as long as this summer's other adult comedy hits. Its 10-day total is $60 million.
In fourth place, 'Zookeeper' had a similarly modest drop of 39 percent, to an estimated $12.3 million, for a 10-day total of $42.4 million. That's a better second weekend than expected, given the film's hostile reviews and its competition for family audiences from this weekend's two new wide releases. The talking-animal comedy did have strong word-of-mouth, and it seems to have found the demographic sweet spot of kids too young for 'Harry Potter' but too old for 'Winnie the Pooh.'
'Cars 2' also continued to hold up. The tepidly-reviewed toon came in fifth this week with an estimated $8.3 million (down 45 percent from last week), for a four-week total of $165.3 million.
With three family films in the top five, it's no wonder that Disney's 'Winnie the Pooh' could manage no better than a sixth-place premiere. All that competition led pundits to predict an opening of $8 to $10 million. Despite the movie's strong reviews, its appeal to kids too young for the scary Potterpocalypse, and its nostalgia value for parents who grew up with Disney's classic, hand-drawn Pooh cartoons a generation ago, 'Winnie the Pooh' opened at the lower end of those expectations, with an estimated $8.0 million. Still, with the relative dearth of fare for very young children this summer, the bear of very little brain could prove to have sturdy legs over the next few weeks.
Year-to-date box office is still down $423 million (nearly 7 percent) from this time last year. Still, it's up a hair (about $2 million) for the month of July so far, over July 2010. Thanks to 'Harry Potter,' this weekend saw nearly $83 million more in sales than the same weekend last year - not bad, since that was the weekend 'Inception' was released.
The full top 10:
1. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,' $168.5 million (4,375 screens), new release
2. 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' $21.3 million (3,917), $302.8 million total
3. 'Horrible Bosses,' $17.6 million (3,134), $60.0 million
4. 'Zookeeper,' $12.3 million (3,482), $42.4 million
5. 'Cars 2,' $8.3 million (3,249), $165.3 million
6. 'Winnie the Pooh,' $8.0 million (2,405), new release
7. 'Bad Teacher,' $5.2 million (2,659), $88.5 million
8. 'Larry Crowne,' $2.6 million (2,287), $31.6 million
9. 'Super 8,' $1.93 million (1,459), $118.1 million
10. 'Midnight in Paris,' $1.89 million (706), $41.8 million
Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.