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‘Secrets’ out, at $87 million

Times Staff Writer

Hogwarts is back in session and new wizardry is afoot as “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” conjured up an estimated $87.7 million over the weekend -- an impressive if not quite magical opening for the “Potter” sequel.

If studio estimates hold up when actual figures are calculated today, the second in the series based on J.K. Rowling’s books will have posted the third-best opening weekend, behind only “Spider-Man” and the first “Potter” film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” and ahead of previous third-place holder “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.”

Playing in a record 3,682 theaters (slightly more than the first film did) “Chamber of Secrets” averaged a robust $23,816 per location. Warner Bros. issued a record 8,500 prints, 381 more than were issued for the first.

Even though estimates were down a tad from the original’s spectacular $90.3-million debut exactly a year ago, Warner Bros. president of theatrical distribution Dan Fellman said exit polls indicate better audience response to “Chamber of Secrets” than to the original, boding well for the long haul. Fellman, as well as observers at competing studios, suggested the film may ultimately perform better than the original, which took in $317.6 million in the U.S. and $649.6 million internationally. Meanwhile, last weekend’s box office smash “8 Mile,” starring rapper Eminem, dropped an estimated 58% to second place with $21.3 million, by Universal Pictures’ estimates. The decline is steeper than would ordinarily be considered healthy for a second weekend and puts into question whether the film will be the blockbuster some had predicted. Its 10-day total is about $86.4 million.

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On the “Potter” front, fans seem to be getting younger even if Harry himself is getting older. The boy wizard is 12 in “The Chamber of Secrets,” but there appeared to be few 12-year-olds inside Grauman’s Chinese in Hollywood on opening day.

Kelly Leonard, an 11-year-old from Van Nuys, was older than most of the kids in the audience. Wearing a red “Harry Potter” T-shirt, Kelly gave the new film his stamp of approval. “There was a lot more action than in the first movie, and it was a lot darker,” he said.

More typical of the crowd was Kelly’s 6-year-old sister, Caitlin, who claimed to have watched the whole movie without closing her eyes, despite the much-discussed scarier content of the sequel.

Although attendance at the Chinese fell shy of last year’s comparable opening-day matinee, turnout was higher at the AMC 14 in Burbank on Saturday afternoon. Both screens showing “Chamber of Secrets” were sold out. Despite capacity crowds of young children and the film’s two-hour, 41-minute running time, the Burbank theaters were surprisingly quiet. Nine-year-old Kelly Lane had no problem with the movie’s length. “They had to put all the stuff that was in the book in it,” she explained.

In its simultaneous opening in the United Kingdom and seven other European and Asian markets, “Chamber of Secrets” took in an estimated $54 million.

Among noteworthy limited openings, Samuel Goldwyn Films’ controversial “El Crimen del Padre Amaro” (“The Crime of Father Amaro”) took in $476,440, a healthy average of $11,080 per theater in 43 locations. The film that depicts priests behaving badly endured protests at home to become Mexico’s highest-grossing domestic movie.

In the U.S., the Catholic League denounced the film and another group has waged a mail protest campaign, which doesn’t appear to have hurt it in the five major markets where it opened. Samuel Goldwyn Films will add 10 markets Friday, for a total of 100 theaters.

“Far From Heaven,” Todd Haynes’ critically acclaimed paean to glossy ‘50s melodramas, expanded from five to 54 theaters, grossing a lustrous $17,238 per location and weekend total of $930,872, Focus Films reported. Its cumulative gross is just under $1.3 million.

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Artisan Entertainment’s critically lauded Funk Brothers documentary, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” debuted with $125,000 in 23 theaters, averaging a respectable $5,434. United Artists reported that “Bowling for Columbine” had grossed $1.35 million in 11th place, averaging $5,443 in 248 theaters, bringing its six-weekend total to $8.8 million and making it the highest-grossing non-concert documentary.

There are still chills aplenty in “The Ring.” At No. 4, the film, for which DreamWorks reported an estimated $11 million, had a total of $101.6 million in its fifth weekend. Debuting in fifth place, Sony/Screen Gems’ “Half Past Dead” garnered an estimated $8.2 million. Sony positioned the film as an urban action picture with a focus on Morris Chestnut and Ja Rule, and a studio representative indicated the company was happy with the performance of Steven Seagal.

Box office tracker Nielsen EDI estimated business for all films was $174 million, up 8% from the same “Harry” weekend last year. For the year, the cumulative box office is an estimated $7.785 billion versus $6.937 billion at the same point in 2001.

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Times staff writer Patrick Day contributed to this report.


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