LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of fans descended on Leicester Square in central London on Thursday, braving wind and rain to catch a glimpse of the stars on the red carpet for the new Harry Potter film's world premiere.
Young British actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who have played the central roles for the last decade, appeared with J.K. Rowling, the author behind the hugely successful boy wizard books on which the movies are based.
Watson, 20, grabbed the limelight, sporting her new short haircut and wearing a short black dress.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," the seventh and penultimate Potter picture, hits U.S. theatres on November 19 and looks set to provide another big pay day for Warner Bros.
The Hollywood studio decided to split the final book about Harry and his wand-wielding pals into two films after the first six movies amassed $5.4 billion at the global box office.
In Deathly Hallows Part 1, Harry, Ron and Hermione set out on a mission to track down and destroy the secret to evil Lord Voldemort's immortality and destruction -- the Horcruxes.
The three are forced to fend for themselves outside the comfort of Hogwarts school, and the pressure to fight the forces of evil sees best friends Harry and Ron come to blows.
The actors have spoken of mixed feelings about a franchise that has turned them into A-list stars and multi-millionaires.
Grint, 22, felt a sense of relief that a decade of filming had finally ended.
"It's just really great, it's a sense of real freedom because filming on Harry Potter...it does take over your life and it is really long shoots and it's just nice to be out and do your own thing for a change," he told Reuters.
Robert Conner, a dead ringer for actor Grint who plays Ron in the series, was near the front of the queue of fans, having pitched his tent on Tuesday evening.
"I'm a big fan," he said. "I've actually got a Harry Potter tattoo, which I've shown to quite a few members of the cast. I just love Harry Potter. I love the books, I love the films, love the cast."
Paul Taylor, 46, travelled from Sheffield, England, in the early hours of the morning to book his spot.
His outfit, which he said cost 1,000 pounds ($1,600) to make, consisted of a wizard's hat, a cloak with Potter insignia, gold-colored buttons and a teddy bear in identical kit.
He said he has been a Potter fan since being introduced to the books, which have sold more than 400 million copies, by his niece eight years ago. "It's such a great atmosphere," he said. "It makes it all worth it.
The hugely popular franchise has yet to break the billion-dollar barrier with a single title, and a 3-D release would have made that landmark a near certainty, experts said. Warner failed to have the 3-D version ready in time.
"I think the 3-D issue must be a big disappointment for Warner Bros." said Andreas Wiseman of Screen International.
"I think they've really missed a trick. Other big franchises like 'Saw', 'Shrek' and 'Toy Story' have gone from strength to strength (by turning to 3-D)."
He added that Deathly Hallows Part 1 may gross $1 billion in global ticket sales even without higher prices commanded by a third dimension, and that the franchise has another chance to cash in on 3-D with Deathly Hallows Part 2 out next July.
Additional reporting by Adam Jourdan and Mike Collett-White