Warner Bros' decision to release Harry Potter And The PrisonerOf Azkaban in the summerpaid off handsomely as the third instalment in the children's series opened topat the weekend on a franchise record $92.7m estimated gross.
Despite opening in more theatres than its predecessors, this was atriumphant bow for the studio as the critics hailed the flair and emotionalallure of Alfonso Cuaron's interpretation.
If results hold up when actual figures are released on Monday thiswill be the second biggest three-day bow ever. The leader of course remains Spider-Man and its astonishing $114.8m achieved inMay 2002, a mark that seems beyond the reach of all but that picture's sequel,perhaps.
Elsewhere Shrek 2 charged towards another set of records as it added $37m in itsthird week for $313.6m, slipping one place to second. It lurched past $300m onSaturday (5) in a record 18 days, beating Spider-Man's 22.
Dreamworks' animated sequel is the 15th highest domestic grosserof all time and will need a week or so to pass Finding Nemo's $339m and become the biggest animateddomestic release of all time.
Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban reunites Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grintand Emma Watson as the three apprentice wizards at Hogwarts, who this time facedown a mysterious prison escapee.
It averaged $24,032 from 3,855theatres. Its sparkling British supporting cast that includes Gary Oldman,David Thewlis, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson andMichael Gambon.
By way of comparison, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone opened on $90.3m in November 2001 andamassed $318m, while Chamber Of Secrets opened on $88.4m in November 2002 and finished on $262m.
The studio is in production onthe fourth Potter title, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, which is being directed by British film-maker MikeNewell.
Twentieth Century Fox's TheDay After Tomorrow fell one place to thirdon $28.2m for $128.8m and is expected to finish in the $175m-$200m region.
Warner Bros' Troy fell two to fifth on $5.7m for $119m, while Universal's VanHelsing fell two toeighth on $2.3m for $114.5.
Buena Vista's comedy Raising Helen held film in fourth place on $6.7m for$24.2m in its second week, while Paramount's Mean Girls extended an impressive run as it added$2.9m for $78.1m, slipping one place to sixth.
IDP's Super Size Me stayed put in 10th place on just under $1m for an excellent$6.2m.
Estimated Top Ten US Jun 4-6 2004
Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekendgross/Estimated total to date
1 (-) Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (Warner Bros) Warner Bros Pictures Intl$92.6m -
2 (1) Shrek 2 (Dreamworks) UIP $37m $313.6m
3 (2) The Day After Tomorrow (Fox) Fox Intl $28.2m $128.8m
4 (4) Raising Helen (Buena Vista) BVI/Beacon-Summit $6.7m $24.2m
5 (3) Troy(Warner Bros) Warner Bros Pictures Intl $5.7m $119.1m
6 (7) Mean Girls (Paramount) UIP $2.9m $78.1m
7 (5) Soul Plane (MGM) Fox Intl $2.85m $11.1m
8 (6) Van Helsing (Universal) UIP $2.3m $114.5m
9 (8) Man On Fire (Fox/New Regency) Fox Intl $1m $75.3m
10 (10) Super Size Me (IDP) Fortissimo $835,170 $6.2m