why no ‘Harry Potter’ this fall?

By now you’ve probably heard that Warner Bros. has pushed the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince back from this coming November to July 2009. The reason (as noted at Film.com) has to do with the writers’ strike, according to Warner Bros. CEO Alan Horn:

Our reasons for shifting Half-Blood Prince to summer are twofold: we know the summer season is an ideal window for a family tent pole release, as proven by the success of our last Harry Potter film. Additionally, like 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.

I think we can pretty much eliminate the first excuse: if Warner Bros. had thought that Summer 2009 was the best time to release Half-Blood Prince, that would have been the original release date. Indeed, a quick look at how the previous Harry Potter films performed at the box office suggests that November would have been a better time to release the film, or, at least, that November is no worse than summer.

But while Half-Blood Prince was not itself impacted by the writers’ strike — indeed, the film is reportedly already completed — Warner Bros. did lose two other potential Summer 2009 tent poles because of the strike: the Justice League movie and a Superman Returns sequel. (In case you’re not already aware of the term, a studio’s “tent pole” is the major release of the season — either Christmas or summer — that is expected to be a blockbuster, and around which it can hang its other releases, so to speak. It’s the movie a studio quite literally banks on to support its other films, and itself.) So while Warner Bros. is now leaving itself without a Christmas 2008 tent pole, it can probably afford to do that, after the extraordinary and surely unexpected level of success of The Dark Knight.

There’s been some suggestion that Warner Bros. decided that it did not want to release the film at the same time that Daniel Radcliffe is performing nude on Broadway in Equus (which starts previews in September), but that seems unlikely — Radcliffe’s Broadway debut was announced early this year, after the play had already been running in the West End, so that could hardly have surprised the studio. Although perhaps Radcliffe’s tastefully nude photo promoting the show in September’s Vogue, which did just hit newsstands, served as something of a wakeup call…

The most preposterous aspect of this situation has been the reaction of the fans. I’m disappointed too, but it seems a bit extreme to wish actual harm on anyone because of this, as one signer of the pointless online petition to Warner Bros. did:

Fu¢k you to hell for postponing this, I will never forgive you for your actions. I hope that God kills all of your family members in a slow, painful fashion. Yes, that means you Alan Horn.

Jesus. A more typical reaction is along the line of the one pointed out at a blog at the New Zealand Herald:

[O]ne incensed fan wrote in a letter to the LA Times: “This is ridiculous and I assure you that the millions of Harry Potter fans who have been looking forward to this release will not stand for it.”

Hmm. In what way will the fans “not stand for it”? By refusing to see the movie whenever it does get released? That seems unlikely.

And then there’s this deluded fan, who commented at Wired’s Underwire to a post about the nonreponse response from Warner Bros. to the fans’ ire:

I think it’s a great thing that The Half-Blood Prince isn’t being released in November 2008. Sure, the suspense is killing me. Yes, I wasn’t too happy at first that Alan is delaying it’s release until July. But let’s face it; the fifth movie wasn’t all that great. It put more focus on small things going on in the book rather than the important details Rowling intended. I for one am glad that Alan is waiting to release this movie, I’m sure that the eight extra months will help cover everything that happened in the 6th book.

Oh, honey: The movie is finished. It’s done. It’s not like the director got an extension on his book report and now has time to do it right even though he left it till the last minute. He’s already turned it in to the teacher.

Quick prediction: This will be the first major studio film to be pirated in a big way long before that new release date in July 2009. In fact, it almost seems like a perfect-storm kind of situation: a long-since-finished film colliding with long-frustrated fan desire to see it. In fact some more, if I were a conspiracy-minded kind of gal, I might almost suspect that the entire situation was engineered so that the studios could implement some sort of tough new antipiracy measures. You know, a Reichstag fire for copyright facists.

But that’d be crazy, right?

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Wed, Aug 20, 2008 6:02pm

Crazy? Maybe, but we live in crazy times, don’t we? :)

Wed, Aug 20, 2008 6:41pm

Great stuff as usual, MaryAnn.

I think there has to be something wrong with the film, since Entertainment Weekly–a Time Warner publication–went to press with Harry on the cover of their fall preview. If delaying the release were even being remotely considered, you can be sure they wouldn’t want the embarrassment of having it on the cover, and some other film could have gone there. This was a snap decision for reasons we’ve yet to know.

My friends tell me the 5th movie wasn’t very good, and that this is the same director. Perhaps these things are related?

(Full disclosure: I haven’t seen any of the Harry Potter movies for fear of them ruining the books for me.)

Wed, Aug 20, 2008 8:15pm

The most recent Harry Potter movie is the best of the lot. I tend not to suspect that there’s something wrong with the new movie… otherwise we’d be hearing about reshoots and the like. Anyway, simply moving the film to next summer wouldn’t solve any problems with it.

Thu, Aug 21, 2008 10:00am

I thought the Order movie was quite good, actually. I really don’t get the people who didn’t like it, but there’s always naysayers I suppose.
Yeah, the wife and I aren’t too happy about this bump, but what do ya do? Exactly nothing.
Plenty other movies to watch.

Thu, Aug 21, 2008 12:16pm

And if they started filming the series a year earlier we could be watching the new Harry Potter movie right now!

Thu, Aug 21, 2008 1:13pm

I think you already implied the reason in your post. Warner Bros is flush with Dark Knight money, and I think they are just planning to use the Harry Potter movie as a book-end in roughly the same time-slot next summer.

My guess is they will release a different ‘high profile’ movie in December which they like but doesn’t have the same earning potential…because this Christmas the competition actually looks fairly weak.

And in other news, Sci-Fi finally gave the boot to Stargate Atlantis! (And there was much rejoicing) although, since there is no BSG, Eureka is on Tuesday, et al. I don’t know what they think they are going to do with Friday Night. I can’t believe ghost hunters really pulls that many viewers.

Thu, Aug 21, 2008 2:27pm

The thing is, though, that Warner Bros. doesn’t *have* another movie to drop into Harry’s former release date…

Thu, Aug 21, 2008 4:42pm

Hmmm, yeah I was thinking they could bump ‘Watchmen’ up a few months…but you’re right, at the moment that seems to be dead air for WB. Strange.

Sun, Aug 24, 2008 9:20pm

This isn’t really all that surprising. And it’s not even the first: Star Trek was bumped from Christmas ’08 to Memorial Day ’09 months ago. And as MaryAnn pointed out, TND gave Warner’s the financial breathing room to reschedule a major tentpole.

What’s interesting is the incredulous reaction both moves have received. When Paramount announced they were postponing ST, they blamed it on sfx clean-up or some such – anything but the writer’s strike – and the reaction was, “That can’t be the real reason, it must be fallout from the strike.” Now that Warner’s is specifically blaming the strike, the reaction seems to be, “That can’t be the real reason, it must be the movie is broken.”

Mon, Aug 25, 2008 1:24pm

I think the difference is that with *Trek,* the studio maintained the veil of an illusion that Hollywood is sometimes about art and craft and creativity and pleasing the fans. (“Oh, the FX need work, and we wouldn’t want Trekkers to be disappointed.”) With *Prince,* the studio appears to have dropped the pretense that the release-date switch is about anything but money. (“Oh, sure, the film is done and great and we love it, but we think we’ll make more money with it come summer, so fuck you, fans.”)

That may not actually be the case with either film, but that’s how it looks. And of course it’s no real news that Hollywood *is* just about making money, but it’s so blatant in this case.

Tue, Aug 26, 2008 6:34am

It might just be that they know they don’t have a Summer 2009 movie good enough to be a “tentpole” so moved Harry into that slot.

It’s amazing the grudges people hold. I’m assuming that anyone that excited about the Potter movies has read the books, so why get so hyper? It can’t be the suspense of waiting to see how it turns out.

However, I’ve heard of athletes getting death threats because of making a mistake that cost a team victory, in one case even after 15 years have passed.

Sun, Aug 31, 2008 6:01pm

MAJ, are you suggesting that Paramount’s pretty lies are to be preferred over Warner Bros. bald-faced truths? Either way, the move has been made, so why not be up front about it?

Now, maybe I’m too close to “the business” (my dad was a TV/theater stage hand for 35 years), but a postponement for financial reasons doesn’t seem like a “fuck you, fans.” Or rather, it’s an awfully big gamble for both studios to be done out of indifference. While both films are seen as tent poles, *Trek* must be largely viewed as a big risk, what with the recasting. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but the box office returns on the *Harry Potter* movies have seen a small but steady decline – typical of a long running franchise. They can count on their opening weekend, but not expect *Dark Knight* numbers. And yea, there has to be some concern that the delay will adversely affect that opening weekend.

The really oddball thing here is timing. Both moves were made mere days *after* the first trailers hit audiences, both with their original release dates. I’ve heard of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, but this is ridiculous. >.

Sun, Aug 31, 2008 9:11pm

MAJ, are you suggesting that Paramount’s pretty lies are to be preferred over Warner Bros. bald-faced truths?

Of course not. But I do find it interesting that Hollywood has clearly stopped feeling a need to lie. Surely that’s intriguing, don’t you think?