By the Numbers: Nov. 16

Muggles are wild about Harry Potter.

So magic could happen this weekend at the box office.

The first of seven anticipated films based on the books by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone will hit a record 3,672 theaters on Friday on the heels of great reviews and stunning advance ticket sales. Factor in a terrific $9.6 million taken at previews last weekend in the United Kingdom and the stage is set for Harry Potter to challenge The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s record $72.1 million opening weekend take in 1997.

The budding wizard does have what it takes to overcome several big hurdles ahead of him. The film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time will result in fewer showings per screen. Still, the three-hour Pearl Harbor managed to post a $59 million opening in its first three days this past Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The Lost World enjoyed its three-day opening during the busy Memorial Day holiday weekend as well, but debuting on a non-holiday weekend can yield big bucks, too. Monsters, Inc. paved the way this month for a huge Harry Potter opening by earning $62.5 million in its first weekend. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Chirstmas debuted during last year’s pre-Thanksgiving holiday weekend with $55.1 million. The Grinch overcame competition in the form of fellow newcomers Rugrats In Paris, The 6th Day and Bounce. The only other new film to debut wide this weekend is The Wash, but the comedy opened Wednesday to avoid clashing with Harry Potter. Anticipation is very high for Harry Potter, given the books’ loyal following among children and adults, so a debut better than either Monsters, Inc. or The Grinch seems guaranteed.

Even if Harry Potter doesn’t break The Lost World‘s record, the movie may still thrive in the long term.

Unlike Pearl Harbor and Godzilla, which both failed to shatter opening records and faded fast in the face of lousy reviews, the Chris Columbus-directed fantasy is conjuring up fabulous word of mouth and will likely dominate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Think Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace, which opened on the pre-Memorial Day weekend in 1999 to a less-than-anticipated $64.8 million weekend but ended up as the third-highest grossing film of all time with $431 million.

With the arrival of Harry Potter, Monsters, Inc. will scare a lot less kids this weekend. The Disney/Pixar animated yarn–with Billy Crystal and John Goodman providing voices–should still live large thanks to spillover business from Harry Potter. Monsters, Inc. dropped a mere 27 percent in its second weekend, to $45.5 million, and crossed the $100 million mark in nine days. That’s a record for an animated film, beating Toy Story 2 and Shrek by one day. Its $132 million total through Wednesday puts it ahead of both of the aforementioned. If it holds its own against Harry Potter, Monsters, Inc. will likely surpass Toy Story 2‘s $245.8 million total and may even challenge Shrek‘s $267.3 million to reign as the year’s highest-grossing animated offering. For the record, the top animated title is The Lion King, with $312.9 million.

It may be hard to believe, but there are other films showing this weekend at your local multiplex, and some will likely reap the benefits of screening alongside Harry Potter and Monsters, Inc.

Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg deserve a hand for daring to take on Harry Potter. The pair made cameos–separately–in Training Day, but The Wash isn’t likely to be as big a hit as the rogue cop thriller. The rap-driven comedy hit 759 theaters Wednesday and earned $468,000. That’s about on par with Snoop Dogg‘s Bones, which opened on Oct. 24 and scared up a so-so $3.6 million in its first five days at 847 theaters. Expect the same from The Wash.

Bobby and Peter Farrelly can breathe again now that Shallow Hal looks like it will reverse the brothers’ recent run of bad luck at the box office. The film’s $22.5 million opening is more than the combined totals of Osmosis Jones ($13.5 million) and Say It Isn’t So ($5.5 million), the latter of which they produced. With $27.5 million in the piggy bank through Wednesday, Shallow Hal has already stomped past Kingpin poor $25 million total in 1996.

Shallow Hal debuted almost as well as last year’s Me, Myself & Irene, but its $24.2 million opening was something of a disappointment for a comedy that reunited the brothers with Dumb and Dumber cohort Jim Carrey. Shallow Hal did beat the $13.7 million that There’s Something about Mary earned in 1998. Then again, good reviews and great word of mouth helped Mary earn $176 million. A fat Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t have the same legs–however padded–as a semen-bedecked Cameron Diaz.

Another set of brothers–Joel and Ethan Coen–also should look forward to the weekend. The Man Who Wasn’t There continues to expand, having garnered $1.9 million in two weeks in limited release. The black-and-white thriller, with Billy Bob Thornton as a barber who blackmails his wife’s lover, is running neck and neck in its second weekend with last year’s O Brother, Where Art Thou. That screwball comedy, which amazingly played in theaters for eight months, eventually grossed $45.5 million to become the brothers’ biggest hit.

The Man Who Wasn’t There isn’t likely to enjoy such a long and profitable run. Unlike the goofy but good-natured Depression-era take on Homer’s The Odyssey, this serious-minded chiller sees the brothers return to the film-noir sensibilities of Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing. It isn’t as accessible or likeable as Fargo, and thus will fail to appeal beyond many Coen Bros. purists.

Another film noir, Novocaine, arrives Friday in limited release. That’s obviously a sign of little faith in this extremely dark comedy marking Steve Martin‘s first film since 1999’s Bowfinger. Those who found the Father of the Bride films so lovely and endearing aren’t really going to enjoy the sight of dentist Martin pulling out his own teeth.

After coming to the United States to direct Alien Resurrection, Jean-Pierre Jeunet returned to his native France to concoct Amelie. Already a smash in France, this enchanting romance looks set to become the biggest foreign-language hit since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Amelie has made $1 million in a two-week limited run. With great reviews likely to translate into countless awards and nominations, Amelie could go through arthouse roofs to challenge the $14.5 million taken by the year’s current foreign-language champ, Iron Monkey.

Expanding from 88 theaters to 1288 theaters last weekend didn’t prove bountiful for Life as a House. Kevin Kline‘s midlife crisis earned just $3.8 million, for a total of $6 million through Wednesday. Life as a House doesn’t have the rock solid critical and audience support it needs to become the next American Beauty, as it is being touted by distributor New Line.

After enjoying a personal best opening with The One, Jet Li endured a tough second weekend that saw his sci-fi epic plummet by 52 percent from $19.1 million to $9.1 million. With $33.7 million through Wednesday, The One is close to surpassing the $36.8 million that Kiss of the Dragon crawled its way to this summer. But The One is lagging behind Romeo Must Die, which amassed $38.8 million in 12 days on its way to $55 million.

John Travolta fared somewhat better with Domestic Disturbance. His son-in-peril thriller dropped a respectable 38 percent, from $14 million to $8.6 million, in its second weekend. Domestic Disturbance has accumulated $27.8 million through Wednesday, almost more than the combined totals of Travolta‘s 2000 bombs Battlefield Earth ($21.4 million) and Lucky Numbers ($10 million).

Heist‘s $7.8 million opening–$9.8 million through Wednesday–represents a best for a David Mamet-directed film. That’s no doubt because this crackerjack thriller, reuniting Get Shorty stars Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito and Delroy Lindo, is the first of the acclaimed playwright’s films to receive such a wide release. Heist has already surpassed the $6.9 million made by last year’s State and Main and by the end of its first full week is bound to surpass the $10.1 million that The Spanish Prisoner ran off with in limited release in 1998. Heist‘s future seems as uncertain as a life of crime, considering that this older-skewing offering faces direct competition from Domestic Disturbance, K-PAX, Life as a House and next week’s Spy Game.

Having made $41.8 million through Wednesday, the alien-on-vacation melodrama K-PAX is poised to become Jeff Bridges‘ best outing since 1991’s The Fisher King. Co-starring Robin Williams, The Fisher King ended its run with $41.7 million. Bridges clearly benefits when paired with an equally famous co-star, in this case Kevin Spacey.

The end is nigh for Thirteen Ghosts ($35.3 million), From Hell ($29.8 million) and Riding in Cars with Boys ($28.1 million). Expect these, plus Training Day ($72.6 million), Serendipity ($45.8 million) and the underachieving Bandits ($38.5 million), to quickly make way for this month’s Spy Game, Black Knight, Behind Enemy Lines and Texas Rangers. The holiday gold rush is about to begin.