'Harry Potter' joins the biggest movies of all time

by Barry Koltnow

The Orange County Register (MCT)

8 August 2011


It’s a shame about “Harry Potter.”

The eighth and final episode in the long-running film series has made only $1 billion at the worldwide box office. I know that sounds like a lot of money, but studio executives expected to make at least $10 more than $1 billion.

In fact, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” fell one admission ticket short of its goal of world domination.

That’s right; I kept my promise to be the only person in the world not to buy a ticket to the final Potter movie. Judging from the numbers (it enjoyed the biggest opening weekend in Hollywood history), I suspect that I really was the only person in the world who didn’t fall for the hype.

By the way, my last column — “Good riddance, Harry Potter” — received an avalanche of reader responses, split almost half between people who agreed with me that the movies were not as good as the books, and those who thought I was complete idiot. I received emails and phone calls from as far away as Australia.

One passionate Potter fan left a phone message in which she used the same colorful expletive to describe me at least four times. At first, I thought it was a relative.

Regardless of which side you fall on, you have to acknowledge the financial achievement of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2.” As of this writing, the latest film has become the sixth biggest-grossing movie of all time. And that ranking will rise quickly — at least three spots could be overtaken within the next week. Before it’s done, it could move into the third spot, behind the one-two James Cameron punch — “Titanic” (number 2 on the list) and “Avatar” (the king of the movie world).

There has to be something to learn from movies that make an extraordinary amount of money. It can’t be an obvious answer, or every filmmaker and studio would follow the same formula. And the phenomenon of making a billion dollars can’t be dismissed simply as a sequel thing because only six of the top 10 are sequels. Unless, of course, you consider “The Dark Knight” a sequel to “Batman Begins,” and then seven of the top 10 are sequels. Seventy percent isn’t a lot, is it?

Let’s take a look at the 10 biggest movies of all time, and try to figure out what made them billionaires.

Before we start this investigation, let’s get one thing straight. We know that these films are relatively recent (three are from 2011 alone), which means that the box office numbers are inflated. We know that the numbers are inflated, but we don’t care because nothing is like it used to be. Popcorn no longer costs a dime, hot dogs from the concession stand send the smell of pork wafting through the movie theater and 20 minutes of commercials precede the feature.

1. “Avatar” (2009) — Although not a sequel in the technical sense, it is a sequel in that it is a follow-up to another James Cameron big-budget epic. The combination of following “Titanic” and the huge budget combined to generate interest. Of all the films on this list, it is the only one that didn’t start with the advantage of familiar characters or Leonardo DiCaprio.

2. “Titanic” (1997) — The only negative we can find with this movie is that it did not allow for a sequel. But don’t think that some studio executive didn’t try.

3. “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (2003) — The winner of 11 Academy Awards, each of which is taller than the average Hobbit.

4. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) — A ride at Disneyland inspired two movies that made at least $1 billion. And you wondered why your life makes no sense.

5. “Toy Story 3” (2010) — A recurring theme in successful movie franchises is the alternative universe. In this case, toys come to life when we aren’t paying attention.

6. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2” (2011) — The books provided a built-in audience.

7. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (2011) — I’m still waiting for the movie based on Pluto’s Dog House.

8. “Alice in Wonderland” (2010) — Johnny Depp is on a roll. What other explanation is there for this movie making $1 billion?

9. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (2011) — I know you expect me to say something snarky about this movie, particularly since I hated the first two “Transformers” movies, but I think this one worked as a summer action flick.

10. “The Dark Knight” (2008) — Director Christopher Nolan set this one up with the brilliant “Batman Begins.” I didn’t think this one was as good, but the fanboys loved it, and the general public followed the fanboys.

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