The weekend debut for the heavily promoted fantasy about a young English wizard easily topped the previous three-day record of $72.1 million, set in 1997 by "The Lost World: Jurassic Park."
Rival studios decided long ago not to open a film against "Harry," based on the children's books by English author J.K. Rowling, and Warner secured a record-setting number of theaters. With many multiplexes playing "Harry" on several screens, the total count of screens was estimated at well above 7,000.
Friday's opening -- punctuated by long lines and sold-out showings -- set a new one-day record with $29.5 million, besting by $1 million the mark set two years ago by the first day of "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace." Saturday's final figure was expected to top Friday's.
The performance by "Harry" was at the upper end of expectations, which had been raised to the $80 million level in recent weeks after Disney scored a major hit with "Monsters Inc." The numbers were particularly impressive given the relatively long running time of more than two and a half hours, limiting the number of screenings per day.
And the opening weekend gave credibility to predictions that "Harry" is headed for the upper echleon of box office performance.
"These are the same kind of numbers you expect for a 'Star Wars' film," said analyst Arthur Rockwell of Rockwell Capital Management. "It's the first original idea to generate this kind of mass appeal. And it's very well-timed because the story still feels very fresh."
The four "Star Wars" films are ranked second, third, ninth and 11th in the all-time domestic list, led by "Star Wars" at $460.9 million, followed by "Phantom Menace" at $431.1 million, "Return of the Jedi" at $309.1 million and "The Empire Strikes Back" at $290.2 million. "Titanic" is the leader with $600.9 million.
With Thanksgiving vacation starting on Wednesday night, "Harry" will have a five-day holiday weekend to set more records. "'Harry Potter' strikes me as the type of film that will pull in a lot of repeat business," Rockwell said.
Cost estimates on the movie, starring newcomer Daniel Radcliffe, have come in at $125 million. Warner is expected to begin shooting a sequel this week.
The third weekend of computer-animated comedy "Monsters Inc." continued its impressive performance with $23.1 million at 3,461 theaters to lift its 17-day total to $156.7 million. "Monsters" is already the 78th highest grosser of all time, topping "Fatal Attraction."
"'Monsters Inc.' was able to avoid being completely decimated by 'Harry Potter' because it has a slightly younger target audience and it's perceived as a quality film," Rockwell said. "It's going to keep performing well for several more weeks."
"Monsters" took in nearly double the total of its closest competition, 20th Century Fox's second weekend of romantic comedy "Shallow Hal" with a still-solid $12.7 million at 2,863 theaters. "Hal" has taken in a respectable $41.3 million in 10 days amid mixed reviews and concerns about its perceived insensitivity to overweight women.
A quartet of dramas took the fourth through seventh spots, led by Paramount's third weekend of "Domestic Disturbance" with $5.6 million at 2,881 locations, followed by Warner's second weekend of "The Heist" with $4.7 million at 1,811 sites, Sony's third weekend of "The One" with $4.2 million at 2,433 theaters and Universal's fourth weekend of "K-Pax" with $3.3 million at 2,325 screens. "K-Pax" has gone past $45 million in 24 days.
Lions Gate's limited release of "The Wash," a comedy set in a car wash starring Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, generated lukewarm business in eighth place with $3 million at 749 sites. "The Wash" opened on Wednesday and took in $800,000 on its first two days.
New Line's fourth weekend of "Life As a House" continued to pull in modest business with $2.7 million at 1,288 theaters. Rounding out the top 10 was Warner's fourth weekend of "Thirteen Ghosts" with $2.2 million at 1,627 sites, followed by Miramax's expanded release of French comedy/drama "Amelie" with $1.3 million at 163 sites and Warner's seventh weekend of "Training Day" with $905,000 million at 855 screens to go past $74 million overall.
With "Harry," "Monsters" and "Shallow Hal" combining for $129 million, overall business was massive as the top 10 grossed about $155 million. That was well ahead of the impressive $142 million total a year ago when "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" opened with $55.1 million.
Year-to-date receipts have hit $6.9 billion, up 10 percent from the same time a year ago. Prospects look solid for the holiday weekend with two potentially strong entries opening Wednesday -- Universal's drama "Spy Game" with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, and Sony's time-travel comedy "Black Knight" with Martin Lawrence.
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