J.K. Rowling's beloved wiz kid hits screens and breaks records

Leicester Square is a dizzying place, churning with crowds and buzzing with neon. As with its New York cousin, Times Square, oddballs here are no real oddity, strangers no strange sight. But two weeks ago, this central London spot had a peculiar feel indeed. Little boys donned cloaks. Girls waved wands. Parents twittered like children. Everyone was off to see The Wizard. Harry Potter had arrived.

”We got our tickets four weeks ago, and now we’re first on line!” gushed Dee Gibbs, with her son Jonathan, 13. Farther back, 12-year-old Londoner Ava Szajna-Hopkins bounced on her toes, peering inside the theater where the movie she’d been waiting two years for would unspool. Grad student Michal Lawe surveyed the scene: ”The sad thing is that I came from Paris to see this. All the way from Paris!”

If you asked most filmgoers last week, they’d say any journey was worth it. Warner Bros. (a division of EW parent company AOL Time Warner) worked most of the world into a drooling frenzy over Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Not exactly a tricky task, but experts were still floored when the film opened on almost 25 percent of North American screens and shattered records. All of them.

Best opening day? Broken. Best single day? Done, first on Friday and again on Saturday. The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s all-time three-day weekend of $72.1 mil? Wiped out after an owl dropped $90.3 million at Warner’s door.

”I was doing projections and historical comparisons,” says Tom Borys of box office tracking firm ACNielsen EDI, ”when I realized, there aren’t any historical comparisons.”

The verdict from critics may have ranged from a Roger Ebert rave to a New York Times smackdown, but the most important audience, children, loved it. ”I just wanted to see Harry in action,” said Joshua Simmons, 11, of Brooklyn. ”The special effects were cool,” said Quentin Rawley, 9, of Boston. ”I can’t wait for the next movie.” And most adults are nodding in happy approval as well. ”There was a truncated dragon sequence, but it was effective,” says Sigourney Weaver, who attended an early showing. ”I’m looking forward to the others already.”

Potter had help on the way to the record books—it opened in more theaters (3,672) with more prints (around 8,200) than any other film in history—yet lines wound around blocks. ”You wait so long, it gets surreal,” says Chris Bergoch, 28, who showed up at a Manhattan theater seven hours early for a midnight showing. Such was the anticipation that on opening day, CNN warned parents not to buy snowy owls (they’re rather fierce). In Los Angeles, school buses were spotted outside theaters. Even rival studios tipped their wizards’ caps: Disney released a new trailer for Monsters, Inc. that ran in front of Potter in some theaters, gently reminding folks that Mike and Sulley were playing next door. Some are even talking of the film’s breaking Titanic‘s all-time box office record, which stands at $600 million domestically and $1.8 billion worldwide.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • Movie
  • 152 minutes