When “Harry” Met “Charlie”
Will Harry steal Charlie’s golden ticket at the cash register?
That’s the tantalizing new question gripping Hollywood now that the great box-office slump has been busted. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling’s sixth installment in her mega-selling magic boy franchise, arrives in bookstores at the same time Warner Bros. is unspooling Tim Burton’s update of Roald Dahl’s kids classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hits movie theaters.
Warners execs have good cause for hand wringing. The heavily hyped Half-Blood Prince goes on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday with more fanfare than all the previous Potter books combined.
Rowling’s U.S. publisher, Scholastic, has ordered a record-setting initial print run of 10.3 million copies of the 672-page tome, and booksellers nationwide are gearing up to host Midnight Magic Parties. The buzz is so great that book chain Barnes & Noble plans to celebrate the landmark release with Potter gatherings at more than 670 of its outlets, according to PotterParties.com.
And both the book and the movie target the same family-friendly demo.
While it’s hard to compare rival media like books and movies, especially with differing price points, recent history has shown that Harry has some serious sales magic no matter the competition.
The fifth chapter, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was released in 2003. Retailing for $30, it sold a whopping 5 million copies its first 24 hours. That $150 million in first-day grosses for Scholastic far surpassed that revenue generated by the weekend’s blockbuster movie opening: Universal’s The Hulk, which took in $62 million in its three-day debut weekend.
“It’s an interesting concept that people even acknowledge that the Potter books are so popular that they have an effect on other media,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. “But that said, the people who want to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will see Charlie. There’s plenty of time for both.”
Derbarabedian believes that Charlie has a built-in audience of those adults who grew up with Dahl’s book and the 1971 adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, who are now parents who want take their children to see it.
Then there’s the Johnny Depp factor, says Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com. The Oscar-nominated actor, whose quirky take on Willy Wonka sparked talk in recent days over whether he based the candy man on Michael Jackson, is a big draw for cinephiles who enjoyed his previous collaborations with Burton (see Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood).
“You have two giant audiences [the filmmakers] are tapping into,” Pandya tells E! Online, “the family audience that loves all those lavish effectsand the audience which loves to see Tim Burton and Johnny Depp together.”
Both Degarabedian and Pandya conclude that Harry won’t dent Charlie’s box office. Traditionally, they say, competition among various media hasn’t stopped moviegoers from flocking to the megaplex because people can usually squeeze both events into a weekend.
“If you look at past history, Disney and DreamWorks tend to fight it out a lot,” explains Pandya, “so you’ll see Shrek 2 come out on DVD the same day The Incredibles hit theaters. You might think people will stay home for the weekend and watch Shrek 2, but The Incredibles grosses $70 million its opening weekend.”
Adds Dergarabedian: “You can counterprogram a book or video to a movie opening, but once people make a decision to go see that movie, they’ll do that–and buy whatever competing property is out there. To me [the Half-Blood Prince] is less problematic than two movies chasing the same audience.”
That’s one thing Warners won’t have to worry about. The only other big release this weekend targets a more adult audience, not families: The Wedding Crashers, starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. The R-rated film is being released by New Line, which also happens to be owned by Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros.
Besides, Warners owns the movie rights to all the Harry Potter books. (The next celluloid installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, based on the fourth of Rowling’s books, is due out in November.)
Meanwhile, as fans around the globe get ready for a return to Hogwarts, Harry’s publishers are casting a dark spell over anyone who attempts to spill Half-Blood Prince’s secrets before Saturday.
Rowling’s Canadian publisher, Raincoast Books Ltd., revealed that several copies of the penultimate adventure were sold by a store in Vancouver and it has since gone to court to obtain an injunction barring those buyers from disclosing any tidbits about the plot. As an incentive, the publisher also promises that those who return the title before the on-sale date will receive book plates autographed by the celebrated author.
When “Harry” Met “Charlie”