It’s going to be a busy weekend at IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX ) theaters. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 opens in 423 theaters globally, and the big push starts at midnight tonight in the U.S. I have my wand packed, my wizard’s robe is being dry cleaned, and I’ve been practicing my swish and flick all week. The buzz around this film is like nothing I’ve heard since Avatar, which launched IMAX and 3-D into a new level of popularity.
A feature film like Harry Potter is exactly what IMAX theaters are built for, and this one film could turn around a relatively disappointing 2011 summer box office. The latest Harry Potter release is opening on 67 more screens than last year’s film, which generated $16.1 million in IMAX box office receipts on opening weekend. And the final Potter movie should be even better because it demands a 3-D premium as well.
Time Warner (NYSE: TWX ) unit Warner Bros. has its sights set on hitting the $1 billion box office mark for the first time, and many analysts would be surprised if it didn’t blow by that. Regal Entertainment (NYSE: RGC ) and Cinemark (NYSE: CNK ) have already been cashing in on the excitement; opening weekend has already generated $32 million in advanced ticket sales.
And IMAX isn’t the only one trying to cash in on the Harry Potter magic. 3-D giant RealD (NYSE: RLD ) , which has been left out of the Potter series until now, is pulling out all the stops with special edition Harry Potter 3-D glasses for tonight’s midnight showing. Who isn’t caught up in the magic of Harry Potter?
What to watch for
In November, when the first Deathly Hallows film was released, IMAX shares jumped 17% in the weeks surrounding the film’s opening. Could we see the same jumps from this Potter film?
It likely will depend on the percentage of domestic box office receipts IMAX is able to command. Normally, IMAX theaters generate 8%-10% of domestic box office sales (9.4% for the first Deathly Hallows) on opening weekend but big name 3-D films like Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, and Tron: Legacy have generated much higher percentages than that. If IMAX can take 12% or more of a record-breaking, weekend box office, investors could be in for a good next week and a better than expected quarter.