July 20, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

You didn’t need a Hogwarts degree in clairvoyance to foretell last weekend’s Potterific dominance at the box office. But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix‘s record Wednesday debut and $140 million five-day opening pulled off an even more impressive feat: It put this season on track to become the highest-grossing summer in history, besting 2004’s $3.8 billion yield.

Of course, Harry’s had a little help from friends like Spidey, Shrek, and Capt. Jack Sparrow. May’s trifecta of threequels — Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End — took in a combined gross of $957 million. In each of those cases, however, boffo bows were followed by second-weekend nosedives in ticket sales: Spider-Man 3 plunged 62 percent, Shrek the Third tumbled 56 percent, and Pirates sank 61 percent.

Then came a monthlong box office downturn we’ll call June. Despite the success of Knocked Up and Ocean’s Thirteen, Evan Almighty, Universal’s reported $175 million follow-up to megahit Bruce Almighty, debuted to an anemic $31 million. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer opened to a respectable $58 million but quickly fell off its wave. And Hostel: Part II was DOA, grossing a paltry $8.2 million in its first weekend. For a while, it was beginning to look like 2007 wouldn’t live up to its early promise.

Enter Optimus Prime. Transformers, which bowed on July 3, now seems poised to join the $300 million club. ”After so many sequels back-to-back-to-back,” says Rob Moore, the head of worldwide marketing at Paramount, which released the film, ”audiences got their dose of the [familiar] and were hungry for something fresh.”

We’ll see if Harry can do better than his cinematic peers and keep ticket sales up through the second week. If he can’t, that may not bode well for tentpoles yet to come. It’s now up to Jason Bourne, Homer Simpson, and Rush Hour 3‘s Carter and Lee to land summer ’07 firmly in the winner’s circle.

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