Theater chains in Los Angeles are touting 405 closure-themed promotions, but some exhibitors are worried moviegoers will just stay home this weekend
They don’t teach this at Hogwarts.
Over the course of eight films, Harry Potter has gone toe-to-toe with the dark lord Voldemort, but come Friday at 7 p.m. PT, even the bespectacled wizard's strongest spells may be no match for the weekend-long Carmageddon.
That’s when L.A.'s well-traveled 405 will shut down for a set of roadway improvements that just happen to coincide with the opening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” the last installment in the mega-grossing fantasy franchise.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's advice to Angelenos: Just stay home.
As for theater owners and executives contacted by TheWrap, they're concerned about the fallout — but remain hopeful that the Potter brand is sparkling enough to be Carmageddon-proof.
“The only effect will be negative, I’m sure, but i don't know what it will be,” Regency Theatres President Lyndon Golin told TheWrap. “The good thing is that people in areas around the 405 might see the movies as an option if they don’t want to venture out too far.”
It’s unlikely that the overall box office will be down so significantly that Harry will be left crying in his butter beer. Ticket sales for the Thursday midnight and 3 a.m. shows remain brisk, with the bulk of the late-night showings already sold out.
Exhibitors cautioned that it’s still premature, but pre-sales do drop off sharply on Saturday and Sunday, after the freeway closes. That, however, could be more attributable to the fact that true Potter-philes are more likely to see the film on its first day of release, leaving subsequent screenings to a less passionate crowd.
“The true Harry Potter fans are going to see the film either Thursday at midnight or Friday day or night, just as soon as the film opens,” Harry Medved, head of publicity for online ticket seller Fandango, told TheWrap. “The people going on Saturday are curious to check it out, but they are not die-hard fans or they may be fans going for repeat viewings.”
Thanks to its passionate fan base, "Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is expected to be the second biggest advance-ticket seller in Fandango’s history.
Warner Bros., which is releasing the film, declined to comment, but analysts still expect that the film will gross between $140 and $150 million opening weekend, making it easily the biggest of the year. Early tracking is far outpacing "The Hangover Part II" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," meaning it will likely be the largest debut in series history. However, it will likely fall short of “The Dark Knight's" $158.4 million record-holding premiere weekend.
Despite those positive signs, there’s some precedent to think that a cataclysmic event in one of the country’s major media market’s could have a significant impact on the "Potter" sequel's box office performance.
The 2009 debut of James Cameron’s 3D epic “Avatar” was marred by a blizzard in the Northeast, which may have reduced its $77 million bow by as much as $2 million, analysts say. Ticket sales in New York plunged 18 percent from Friday to Saturday as the storm brought the city to a standstill.
“[Harry Potter] can take a hit,” Phil Contrino, editor of BoxOffice.com, told TheWrap. “If you’re Warner Bros., any losses will be a drop in the river in the scheme of things. If anybody is prevented from seeing it because they don't feel like going around the traffic, it’s not going to stop people from seeing it at some point during its run.”
Many local exhibitors aren’t expecting that pent-up “Potter” enthusiasm alone will be enough to conjure up moviegoers. Instead, the theaters that dot the 405 are offering up promotions that play off the highway closure to entice wary ticket buyers out of their homes.
Regency Theatres is offering a “Carmageddon Weekend Special” in Van Nuys, Granada Hills and Westwood theaters. Over the weekend, the chain will offer guests who attend two or more movies half-priced admission and free popcorn refills.
The Regent and Nuart, two Landmark Theatre chain locations near the freeway, will offer free popcorn throughout the weekend; moviegoers are advised to allow more travel time to those locations this weekend.
The Arclight Sherman Oaks, which overlooks the 405, is serving up drink specials with freeway shutdown themes. The theater’s cafe will mix up a set of drinks sweet enough to induce a diabetic coma, such as The 405 — a concoction of raspberry vodka, whiskey, Amaretto, Chambord, Southern Comfort, cranberry and pineapple juice — and the Traffic Jam — a blend of peach vodka, Southern Comfort, triple sec, orange juice and grenadine.
“We’re trying to make it an event. We have the best seat in the house to see a completely empty 405,” Sonja Kolstad, programming and marketing coordinator for the Arclight, told TheWrap.
Some optimistic theater owners think that Carmageddon might be more magic than muggle when it comes to their bottom lines.
"Our theatres will provide a much needed refuge from the endless news coverage and street congestion," Landmark CEO Ted Mundorff said.
Likewise, Greg Laemmle, president of Laemmle Theatres, said he thinks that people looking for something to do might go to their local theaters rather than fight traffic and venture out to more far-flung attractions such as the beach.
“As long as people don’t get so freaked out that all they do is stay in houses, there is the potential that this could actually see the box office improve,” Laemmle said.
Now, that would have be a true act of wizardry.