Harry Potter and the Synergistic Month

June 30, 2007
A thought by James Berardinelli

For fans of J.K. Rowling's mega-bestselling Harry Potter books, July represents the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times - because there are two reasons to get excited: the opening of the fifth movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and the long-awaited arrival of the final novel. The worst of times - because the story will be told. Even though there are two more movies to come, the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows represents an ending of sorts. In this world with these characters, there are no more stories to be shared. An element of sadness always accompanies an ending, even if it's a good one.

The movie opens on July 11 (with early screenings late on July 10). Expect midnight showings to be packed. Those who were 8 when the first Harry Potter novel was published have now graduated high school and are capable of staying out late. The book comes out on July 21 (with early sales late on July 20). Hype from each will feed into the other, providing a perfect storm for publicists. Never before have a Harry Potter book and movie arrived in such close proximity. By themselves, each is typically an "event." Put them together, and it's all anyone will be talking about. But there could be a downside to this and, if it materializes, it will do so at the expense of the movie.

The typical pattern for a Harry Potter film is for all true believers to see the movie on opening weekend then go back several times over the next few weeks to see it a second time, a third time, and a fourth time. But no real fan is going to be spending a couple of hours in a movie theater during the film's second weekend out. They're going to be at home reading. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix may have a gargantuan second weekend drop-off because the only ones seeing it that weekend will be those who are casual followers.

Certainly, box office numbers the first weekend will be huge. There will be even more urgency than usual to see the film early. And weekday attendance between July 16 and 20 should also be high, with lots of Potter lovers returning during that period for a second or third dip. But once Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hits bookstands, theater corridors will quiet. The big question is: what happens during the movie's third weekend? By then, most readers will be done with Book Seven. Will they feel the urge to return to the theater to re-live an earlier adventure, or will they be all Harry Pottered out? Thinking back to my days as a fanboy (of other things, not Harry Potter), I suspect the former is more likely. That is, unless Mr. Potter bites the dust, then who knows? (One could project that killing off Harry in Book Seven would be bad for business as far as Movies Six and Seven are concerned. Would it be depressing to watch films when it's known that the hero is fated to die at the end of things?)

Over the years, I have become a convert to following weekend box office tallies. It's not because I think of this as a competition (which is how the studios view it), but because it provides a window into the tastes of movie-goers and a snapshot of pop culture. Watching the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix receipts will be especially interesting because it will paint a portrait of how the nearly simultaneous release of the book impacts movie-going trends. Much will be written about this, I'm sure. In another month, we'll know whether the intermarketing of Movie Five and Book Seven will catapult Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to the top of the 2007 charts or have an overall adverse impact.