Film

'Harry Potter' and the Race to $1 Billion

Harry Potter beat The Dark Knight. The boy wizard clobbered the contemporized Batman. Indeed, the real story would have been had Deathly Hallows flopped, not if it made a mint.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Brendan Gleeson, Richard Griffiths, John Hurt, Rhys Ifans
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
Year: 2011
US date: 2010-07-15 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Harry Potter beat The Dark Knight. The boy wizard clobbered the contemporized Batman. What, exactly, does that mean, and why should anyone care? Well, over the 15 July weekend, the last installment in the worldwide publishing phenomenon made its bow on big screens everywhere, and managed to rake in more than $169 million dollars. That's ten million more than Christopher Nolan's smash Summer of 2008 hit managed over the same marketplace timeframe. When you calculate in all the overseas money (another $307 million) and the continuing love for the effort (fans and critics seem duly satisfied), you've got a title destined to break into that elusive club of cinematic billionaires. While other Potters have come close (the first film is sitting right at $974 million), many predict this will be the one that breaks through.

Of course, the key question is why? Why would this be the installment that finally finds box office supremacy, and why should anyone care? Indeed, when you remember a previous article about how world receipts overly influence overall return tallies, it seems silly to even guess. Right now, Transformers: Dark of the Moon has made close to $763 million with, again, a ratio of nearly two to one representing the rest of the planet. So if Deathly Hallows Part 2 manages to make somewhere near $300 to $350 million in North America, it's more or less given to go nine figures. As with Michael Bay's latest, however, this doesn't mean that David Yates has made one of the great films of all time. Nor would fans argue that this was the best of the Harry Potter bunch. Indeed, the real story would have been had Deathly Hallows flopped, not if it made a mint.

Situationally, this result is rote. You have a ten year long movie event that has managed to build interest and audience investment with each passing installment. Though they knew/know who it ends, the devoted and the newly knowledgeable have to show up to see the send off. Now, if each movie had been worse than the last, a disappointment of both execution and source, Harry Potter would have turned into The Chronicles of Narnia. That famed C.S. Lewis franchise is currently flailing around creatively, probably looking for another sucker studio to crash land at. Now, because of some smart choices initially (dumping Chris Columbus, hanging onto Yates), Potter manage to survive...and thrive. At this point, what with all the hype and the first half of the finale already set in people's minds (and Netflix queues) Part 2 had to triumph.

But there is more to it than just waving goodbye to a well thought of imaginary friend. The Summer of 2011 has been a bastion of mediocrity, a stunted display of the worst that Hollywood can manage. Had the Deathly Hallows Part 2 had any real competition for theater space, had it not bolstered its take a bit by the unnecessary inclusion of 3D and IMAX, it might not be sprinting toward the billion dollar mark. Indeed, one could easily see the last act being as popular as the others, sticking between $700 and $900 million and being happy about it. But since there is nothing else out there of great commercial consequence, and the rest of the world appears eager to swallow almost anything ponied up by Tinseltown, a good movie will sudden step into the realm of giants.

That's what's so bothersome about the 'Harry Beats Batman' hype. The Dark Knight is a far superior film to Deathly Hallows Part 2. It has more artistic merit, more vision, and a better grasp of basic cinematic classicism. The Potter films just want to make sure not to offend the fans. Indeed, they have never been about turning the material into something epic and timeless. If they had, JK Rowling would have let Terry Gilliam or some other actual auteur take on her titles. By carving them up into singular pieces and then protecting each one via strict creative control, the author bungled her own continuing legacy. Her films are fine, not fantastic. This means that, at some point in the next decade or so, a substantive backlash will have fanatics imaging a "better" set of Potter films, and the argument for remakes/reimaginings starts up in Messageboard Nation.

Some, who know Rowling, believe that this will never happen. After all, she is very protective of her Harry. But money, as the song says, does indeed change everything, and if someone in the world offered her $1 billion for the right to turn the books into, say, a massive HBO miniseries with the ability to deal with all the discarded material the films couldn't fit in, who's to say she will say "No." After all, she has started her own website to try and address some of those ancillary (and a few new) issues. Also remember that the studios have been killing themselves looking for the next young adult book to film franchise, the local Cineplex littered with their discarded disasters. Their failures almost guarantee a continuing return to the Potter troughs. Indeed, there's a greater chance of seeing some other Harry product on a screen - big or small - than seeing another installment of The Spiderwick Chronicles or a continuation of I Am Number Four. Maybe something along the lines of X-Men: First Class, perhaps?

As is always the case, profitability never equals artistic value, though the final act in Harry's long journey is indeed a solid spectacle. Looking over the rest of the highest grossing films of all time, few will be listed among the artform's all time best. Still, it's quite an accomplishment to tap into that massive a swath of the entertainment zeitgeist. Even non-Potter people are lining up just to see what the hubbub is all about (one imagines them being highly disappointed, considering their lack of investment in the entire franchise). In a few weeks, when Deathly Hallows Part 2 breaks into the box office upper echelon, there will be more meaningless praise. And then The Dark Knight Rises will open next year and the conversation will recalibrate all over again...until Pirates of the Caribbean 5 finds a release date...and so on...and so on...and so on.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image