Warner Brothers' Potter Profits

Thirty six minutes of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" were pirated this week and put on a dozen bit torrent sites. But that's not slowing down the seventh in Warner Brothers Harry Potter film franchise.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The film, which opens at midnight is already the fourth strongest advance ticket seller of all time according to Movietickets.com. Potter fans are expected to turn out in droves at the thousands of theaters that are opening at midnight — some estimates put late night ticket sales at near $30 million.

The film's on track to bring over $100 million in tickets at the U.S. box office opening weekend — it could very well top the $102.7 million "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" grossed at the U.S. box office the same weekend back in 2005. Merriman Curhan Ford analyst Eric Wold says that if Warner Bros. had managed to make the movie in 3-D that could have added as much as $75 million to its box office. But the film should do just fine without the 3-D, more than justifying the estimated $250 million the studio spent on the film and marketing.

Potter has been a real gold mine for Warner Brothers: The franchise has grossed $5.4 billion worldwide, $1.7 billion of that in the US. Ticket sales, home video, merchandise and games have together generated more than one billion in profit for Warner Brothers.

A range of other companies cash in when a new Potter film draws attention to the franchise. Scholastic (SCHL), which has sold some 400 million Harry Potter books, should get a boost from the film's appearance in theaters. It'll also drive awareness of Universal Studios' (GE) Harry Potter theme park attraction, which it launched to great fanfare this summer.

Next summer Warner Brothers will debut the series' final film; the studio will continue to sell merchandise and DVDs, but it's safe to say that the Harry Potter gravy train will slow down dramatically. Warner Brothers gets how much pressure is on the studio to replace this 8-film behemoth. It's been investing in developing its DC comics characters, "The Hangover 2" could turn that hit into a real franchise, and "The Dark Knight" continues to have huge potential.

Or will Potter really end? One analyst I spoke to today suggested that Warner Brothers may find a way to extend or spin off the franchise even beyond Part 2 of "Deathly Hallows."

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