Fourteen years ago, the door opened at No. 4 Privet Drive, ushering millions of people into the life and adventures of Harry Potter - arguably the world's most famous wizard. And Thursday night, as the credits begin to roll, the story of the boy who lived there will come to a close.
Area Potter fans - like others across the country - are expected to be there in large numbers with roughly a dozen D.C.-area theaters offering midnight showings of the eighth and final movie in the series, the second half of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."
"I think a lot of people are treating this as more than a movie, but as an event," said Harry Medved, a spokesman for Fandango ticket service. "People are going to the film because it feels like a reunion with characters they know and love. It's their last time with them."
Fans began paying final tribute and saying goodbye Monday by attending the first of marathon screenings of earlier Potter films at theaters across the country, including the AMC Loews Georgetown 14.
"There's just something about the relationship between Harry [and his best friends] Ron and Hermione that resonated with so many people," Bethesda resident Cat O'Dell said Tuesday in the lobby of the theater. "It's really amazing what an effect worldwide Harry Potter has had on so many lives."
Clutching acopy of the sixth Potter book, Ms. O'Dell said she was waiting for her sister so they could watch "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," the third film.
"The sixth book is my favorite because you get all the memories and you learn about Voldemort," she said. "You get to know him."
The sisters reread the first six books in preparation for the premier, Ms. O'Dell said, adding that "it's not a children's book, it's a family experience."
The films closely follow the story line of the best-selling books about the young boy who learns that he is a wizard and must master the art of magic while defeating those on the evil side of it.
Mr. Medved said some theaters, including those in the District, have opened additional screens for the weekend to meet the demand of moviegoers.
But the popularity of the Potter franchise defies cinema business logic, said David Wilt, a film studies lecturer at George Washington University.
"If you haven't read the novels or seen the first six movies, you'll be lost," he said. "Surprisingly, this doesn't seem to harm the box-office success of each successive 'Harry Potter' film."
According to Fandango, the final Potter movie already has sold out more than 4,000 show times across the country, putting the film in a strong place to take the spot for the third highest presale movie of all time. The second film in the Twilight saga, "New Moon," holds the top spot and second place belongs to the first of the two "Hallows" movies.
The key to the worldwide popularity of the films, Mr. Wilt said, is that they have "original fans of the books and fans of the movies who subsequently read the books."
Similarly, Mr. Wilt said, it's the sense of history and progression that kept longtime fans coming back to the theater each year.
"It's the culmination of a decadelong series of films, wrapping up the loose ends in a dramatic fashion and leaving no room for a sequel, prequel or reboot," he said. "It's a unique event even within the Harry Potter universe."
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