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LOS ANGELES - “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” set a new record for a Wednesday debut at the box office, as the fifth installment in Warner Bros. Studios’ hugely successful franchise racked up an estimated $44.8 million in ticket receipts.


Box-office tracker Media By Numbers said the figure includes roughly $12 million in midnight screenings from early Wednesday morning. “Potter’s” debut in 4,181 theaters beat the previous Wednesday opening record set by “Spider-Man 2,” which made $40.4 million in 2004.


Perhaps more noteworthy, the opening-day total also was the best for any film in the “Potter” series to date, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers.


The previous four “Potter” films have made more than $3.5 billion in worldwide receipts for Warner, a Time Warner Inc. subsidiary.


“This is one of those rare franchises that is as relevant today as it was when the franchise first started,” Dergarabedian said. “For a fifth installment to be breaking records is pretty incredible.”


Never has that been more apparent than during this summer, one of the most prolific not only for sequels but third installments in film franchises as well. Several experts predicted record numbers for this summer - but a series of sequels, while profitable, have yet to boost this year’s box office to new heights.


Dergarabedian projected that “Potter” would make a quick rise to the $100 million level and beyond as it expands to 4,285 theaters on Friday. He said this film, along with the strong-performing “Transformers” movie from DreamWorks/Paramount, could help bolster the fortunes of the film industry.


This “Potter” seems to appeal not only to younger crowds but adults as well, which could bode well for its business, Dergarabedian said. Further, a survey from online ticket seller Fandango found that 60% of respondents said they would see this “Potter” film more than once.


“Potter” nearly set a preview screening record as its midnight showings came close to the mark set earlier this summer by Walt Disney Co.‘s “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”


“Pirates” previews made $13.2 million vs. “Potter’s” $12 million, but “Pirates was in 3,100 theaters while “Potter” made it to 2,311, Media By Numbers stats show.


The strongest overall performer in the “Potter” series was 2001’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” the first installment. It made $317.6 million in domestic receipts and $974.8 million worldwide.


The most recent film, 2005’s “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” turned in $290 million domestically and $895.9 million worldwide.


Time Warner shares ended trading on Thursday up 4 cents to $20.74.

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