Jim Broadbent, Daniel Radcliffe, ...
Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

Entertainment Weekly’s early look at the new Harry Potter movie just a got a whole lot earlier. In a last-minute move, Warner Bros. has just announced that the studio is pulling Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from its fall lineup and rescheduled it for July 17, 2009. In an irony sure to set blogger hearts beating giddily, the film graces the cover of EW’s new fall preview issue, which hits stands today. EW and Warner Bros. share a parent company, but they clearly do not share, you know, important friggin’ information.

A Warners publicist stressed that word about the rescheduling had only just come down today — which is most likely true, given that the Half-Blood teaser trailer is already in circulation. As of tomorrow, it will run with the new animated Star Wars movie, almost certainly still trumpeting a fall release date. The Potter movie is also on the cover of the fall preview issue of the British film magazine Empire.

As for why the film was pushed out of fall, the studio explained in a statement that summertime is the “ideal window for a family tent pole release.” But this, presumably, is not something the executives just figured out this morning. The Warners release continued, somewhat more convincingly: “[L]ike every other studio, we are still feeling the repercussions of the writers’ strike, which impacted the readiness of scripts for other films—changing the competitive landscape for 2009 and offering new windows of opportunity that we wanted to take advantage of. We agreed the best strategy was to move Half-Blood Prince to July, where it perfectly fills the gap for a major tent pole release for mid-summer.” Prior to the movie, Warners’ had a blockbuster, Terminator Salvation with Christian Bale, set for Memorial Day, but not much else.

Some outside the studio are already pointing out that moving Half-Blood will also stop next year’s profits from looking seriously underwhelming after the phenomenal success of The Dark Knight. “They don’t need the money this year anymore,” says a rival studio exec. “When a movie overperforms the way Dark Knight has, you really don’t need Harry Potter in the fall.” Asked about the seriousness of moving a Potter movie so late in the game, the exec adds, “Turning a battleship that big isn’t easy. You’re not talking just about the movie, but all the merchandising, the toys and stuff. It’s huge. And it has a domino effect across the rest of the summer slate.” The date change will affect other studio’s slates as well. July 17 is currently home to Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost, but Universal may quickly move to safer ground.

Like every studio that ever pushed a movie back in a hurry, Warners’ press statement stressed how proud everyone is of the movie and tried to preempt any suggestion that something might be amiss, creatively or otherwise. And in fairness, the Potter movies have all been quite strong ever since Chris Columbus stopped directing them. Half-Blood was directed by David Yates, who also helmed last summer’s Order of the Phoenix, the biggest global hit the franchise has had since the first film debuted in 2001.

One clear winner here — apart from EW readers now in possession of a “Dewey Beats Truman” collectible — is Disney’s animated movie, Bolt, which will now have the family audience all to itself come Thanksgiving. Bolt is about a puppy who plays a superdog on TV and believes he has real superpowers. John Travolta voices the pooch and Miley Cyrus, his owner Penny. Could it be that Harry Potter is just scared of dogs? — written by Jeff Giles