Conjure This: ‘Potter’ Starts to Series-Best $125.1M at Weekend Box Office

Part 7 of Warner’s fantasy franchise drops 37% on Saturday, missing $130M+ projections … but it’s still way bigger than any previous ‘Potter’ film domestically; film grosses $330.1M worldwide

It wasn't just bigger than any previous "Harry Potter" movie — it was way bigger.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1," the seventh installment Warner Bros.' J.K. Rowling-adapted fantasy franchise, grossed $125.1 million at the domestic box office this weekend, according to studio estimates, besting the previous-best "Potter" start by over $20 million.

The seventh "Potter" also grossed $205 million in 53 foreign territories, adding up to a global opening total of $330.1 million.

(Globally, it was the second biggest "Potter," with the series' sixth installment, "Half-Blood Prince," opening to $394 million worldwide in summer 2009).

Playing at 4,125 locations in the U.S. and Canada  the latest "Potter" garnered an A score from movie customer satisfaction grader Cinemascore. (The last two "Potter" films scored A-minuses.)

With "Potter 7" registering extraordinary 61 percent "definite interest" among some tracking-firm surveys, some wondered if it would even challenge "The Dark Knight's" $158.4 million three-day-opening record.

As it stands, "Deathly Hallows 1" will have to settle for sixth place among all-time domestic premieres, settling in just behind "Iron Man 2's" $128.1 million start last summer.

"Deathly Hallows" faced little in the way of competition, with only one other film, Lionsgate Paul Haggis movie "The Next Three Days," debuting this weekend. 

(The thriller, which stars Russell Crowe, premiered to just $6.8 million, which was even softer than its spongy $7 million-$10 million pre-release estimates.)

But who was paying attention — the box office was too wild about "Harry."

Despite the big "Potter" performance, the domestic box office was down 24 percent from the same weekend last year … which had the $142.8 million debut of a "Twilight" movie ("New Moon") going for it.

Here's a look at how the top 10 finished. Full report continues below chart:

Premiering to $24 million at about 3,700 midnight shows on Friday, "Deathly Hallows" dropped 37 percent on Saturday.

Still, it far and away surpassed the $102 million premiere for 2005's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Why was it so much bigger?

Warner distribution president Dan Fellman noted the franchise's broadening demographic appeal.

Fully 25 percent of "Deathly Hallows 1's" audience was 18-34 this weekend; the premiere figure was only 10 percent for 2001's franchise starter, "Sorcerer's Stone."

Simply put, the core audience for those initial blockbusters "now drives themselves to midnight shows," said Fellman, noting that source-material author Rowling and Warner have concurrently developed "a new generation of 'Potter' fans," with 23 percent of "Deathly Hallows 1's" audience coming in at ages 12-17.

According to IMAX president Greg Foster, the fact that the series is winding down is also influencing its appeal.

"It feels like the beginning of a long celebration from now until next summer," when the finale, "Deathly Hallows Part 2," debuts.

"Deathly Hallows Part 1" broke revenue records for IMAX, bringing in $12.4 million domestically and $16.6 million worldwide. 

Both benchmarks were previously held by Disney's "Alice in Wonderland," which commanded more-expensive 3D ticket prices.

Meanwhile, Lionsgate found itself caught in the "Potter" jet wash, unable to generate any heat for the adult -targeted "Next Three Days."

Produced for just over $30 million — a nut offset somewhat by about $25 million in foreign pre-sales — the caper drama scored a B-plus from Cinemascore.

With 83 percent of the audience age 25 and older, there's hope within Lionsgate that there will be some playability for the film, with an older audience more slowly sampling it — as they have Summit's action-comedy "Red," which is still in the top 10 six weeks after release and has now grossed $83.6 million domestically.

But while "Next Three Days" won't represent a huge money-losing proposition for Lionsgate, the film continues a troubling trend for star Crowe, who is building a robust recent resume of bombs ("Body of Lies" and "State of Play" included).

Finishing second this weekend, DreamWorks Animation's "Megamind" grossed $16.2 million, dropping 44 percent in weekend three — and dispelling notions that it'll play as strong as other soft-opening recent DWA offerings.

"Megamind" has grossed $109.5 million so far and appears to be a longshot to make it to $150 million domestic — an SAT name-signing for most DWA movies. 

By the end of its third weekend, DreamWorks' last original 3D film, "How to Train Your Dragon," had grossed $133.4 million, despite enduring a softer opening.

Finishing in third place, Fox's Denzel Washington thriller "Unstoppable" started living up to its solid reviews (85 percent Rotten Tomatoes score), with the film dropping only around 42 percent in weekend two to $13.1 million.

Budgeted around $85 million after tax breaks, the runaway-train-themed movie — which was directed by Tony Scott and co-stars Chris Pine — has a long chug in front of it to reach profitability. 

But with good word-of-mouth among a slow-rolling older audience, plus foreign receipts — about $19.3 million coming into the weekend — it could still happen.

Facing much longer profitability odds, despite a negative cost of only around $40 million, Paramount rom-com "Morning Glory" finished in sixth place, grossing $5.2 million — a respectable 43 percent drop from its soft debut last weekend.

The film, which stars Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams, has now grossed $19.9 million.