Box office economics  JUN 14 2004

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban topped the American box office this past weekend, but fell off 63% from its opening weekend gross of $93.6 million. Studios usually aim for less than a 50% drop weekend-to-weekend, so that was obviously disappointing news for Warner Bros. The odd thing is that from the outside, Potter looked poised to do well after opening weekend. Critical response was positive (Azkaban was a much better movie than either of the first two films), word of mouth was good (I liked it more than the first two and everyone I talked to enjoyed it), and it was up against no major new movies this weekend (Chronicles of Riddick didn't open well at all...although Garfield and Stepford Wives did better than I expected).

So what gives? Is the movie too adult? Is it getting bad word of mouth among the tween/teen crowd? Has Hollywood well and truly shot itself in the foot in emphasizing the opening weekend of their blockbuster movies at the possible expense of post-opening returns? (But Shrek is still doing really well...) Instead of seeing the movie again in the theatre, are net-savvy teens downloading the movie from the Internet for a second viewing? Did the diversity of new offerings (Garfield, Stepford, Riddick, continuing strong performance by Shrek, wider opening for Saved!) not leave any audience for Potter? Are people losing interest in Harry Potter in general?

Unfortunately, the media outlets that cover the movie business (many of which are owned by companies that make/produce/distribute movies) tend, for whatever reason, not to ask or answer any of these questions. Which is understandable, I guess. Not as many people are interested in the economics of movies as in multi-millionaires throwing pajama parties on jumbo jets.

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