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Sunday, 3 November, 2002, 07:57 GMT
Harry takes on Middle-earth - again
Sean Astin, left, as Sam and Elijah Wood as Frodo in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, coming soon

Seconds out, round two...

Harry Potter is ready once more for battle with The Lord of the Rings for the undisputed title of the year's biggest movie.

In the left hand corner, the second screen instalment of the JK Rowling children's phenomenon: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

In the right, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - next in the three-part adaptation of JR Tolkien's sword-and-sorcery fantasy.

At stake is a worldwide market worth a fortune in box office receipts, merchandising spin-offs and DVD and video sales.

A scene from the first Harry Potter film
Daniel Radcliffe stars again as Harry in the Potter sequel
Rivalry

Between them, the first Potter and Rings films brought in a wizardly $1.82bn (£1.17bn) at cinemas around the globe.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone raked in $961m (£618m) to become the second highest grossing movie of all time behind Titanic.

Its Middle-earth rival, The Fellowship of the Ring, made $860m (£553m), emerging as the biggest film of all time in New Zealand, Norway and Denmark.

As the bout stands, then, Harry is ahead on points - to the tune of more than $100m (£64m).

But huge though this amount is, the rivalry is closer than it appears.

In the UK, the first Potter took $93m (£60m) against $90m (£58m) for Rings.

Triumph

In the US, the gap was similarly small - $317m (£204m) for Harry against $313m (£201m) for Frodo Baggins and co.

JRR Tolkien pictured in Oxford
Part two of Tolkien's Middle-earth fantasy opens next month
In most of the world's cinema-going nations it was a close-run contest. Only in Japan did Potter triumph by a massive margin, taking in excess of $100m more than its competitor, with receipts of $163m (£105m).

And so the Far East looks like holding the key to deciding whether Harry's second term at Hogwarts will pull in more young customers than Gandalf and friends.

Whatever the result, it all adds up to pre-Christmas glee for UK cinemas, already celebrating a record-breaking 40-year box office high after a blockbuster year.

The world premiére of the Potter sequel is in London on Sunday at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square.

Roles

The film is said to be darker and scarier than its predecessor, with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) confronting a sinister force terrorising Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter children's books
The screen adaptations of JK Rowling's books are worth millions
Kenneth Branagh has joined the cast as Gilderoy Lockhart, the school's new professor of Defence Against The Dark Arts.

There are repeat roles for Alan Rickman, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane and the late Richard Harris.

Directed again by Chris Columbus, it contains a wealth of spectacular action scenes - from a flying Ford Anglia car to a high-octane Quidditch match.

The film opens UK-wide on 15 November, giving it more than a month to get a head start on Rings, which debuts on 18 December.

Adding further magic to this year's contest, the two heavyweights face even more competition - in the guise of urbane British secret agent 007.

The new Bond movie, Die Another Day, opens five days after Potter and is sure to appeal to a section of the audience that will seek out the big two blockbusters.

Peter Jackson receives his Oscar for Best Director
The Peter Jackson-directed Rings sequel opens on 18 December
Duel

Some film industry observers have questioned whether UK cinemas have the capacity to cope with three such hugely popular films at the same time.

During last year's Potter vs Rings duel, many multiplexes were effectively taken over by young audiences intent on seeing nothing but the big two.

"These films do what we call 'saturation releases'," says Charles Gant, films editor at Heat magazine.

"Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings were the first films to come out on 1,000 screens in the UK and there was a feeling that every multiplex would be overtaken.

"The fact that there's now another huge blockbuster - Bond - with a very successful franchise is amazing.

Pierce Brosnan is Bond in Die Another Day
007 will need all his mettle to overcome the big two blockbusters
Expectations

"There will be room for other things, but I have visions of 10-screen multiplexes playing them non-stop.

"We do have enough screens to cope because there have been so many new screens.

"A lot of these cinemas started going bankrupt and the market suffered from over-screenage. But the big films have come through in time to save their bacon.

"Three films in five weeks is good news for cinemas that have already had their best ever year at the box office."

Whether the Potter and Rings sequels can quite live up to last year's critical and commercial expectations remains to be seen.

But not even James Bond looks tough, clever or cool enough to get in their way.

See also:

27 Sep 02 | Entertainment
12 Sep 02 | Entertainment
24 Oct 02 | Entertainment
Links to more Entertainment stories are at the foot of the page.


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