Harry Potter may soon cast a spell on the Hollywood history books.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix not only cruised to the top spot at theaters this weekend, but it also brought the series to the brink of becoming the second-biggest franchise in North America, behind only Star Wars.
BY THE NUMBERS: Top 10 weekend films
Order of the Phoenix took in $77.4 million Friday through Sunday, according to studio estimates from Nielsen EDI; it has earned $140 million since its release Wednesday, the highest five-day opening for the franchise.
That's the fourth-largest of the summer, behind Spider-Man 3 ($151.1 million), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($139.8 million) and Shrek the Third ($121.6 million).
The film bumped Transformers to No. 2 with $36 million, followed by Ratatouille with $18 million, Live Free or Die Hard with $10.9 million and License to Wed with $7.4 million. (Final figures are due today.)
The five Potter films have taken in $1.3 billion in the USA and should soon overtake the 22 James Bond movies, which have earned $1.4 billion. Only the six-film Star Wars franchise is bigger, with $2.2 billion.
And with two more Potter installments due after Phoenix, "we could easily be looking at the biggest franchise of all time," says Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com. "Most franchises don't make it to a fifth movie, let alone one that doesn't go straight to video. This kind of strength is rare."
Analysts credit several factors in the franchise's success, including using different directors and darkening the movies' tone to match the books' bleaker themes. But the real secret may be in audiences growing up with the young wizards.
"The same way kids grew up with Luke Skywalker, kids are growing right along with Harry," Pandya says. "It's defining their generation."
And it puts the onus on Warner Bros. to keep the movies coming. "We've set a timetable of a movie every 1½ years," distribution chief Dan Fellman says. "We don't want people to lose that connection with the characters."
Even competing studio executives are impressed. "This isn't some tent-pole film that opens and goes away," says Marvin Levy of Paramount, which has Transformers. "This is a juggernaut."