LONDON (Reuters) - The end is nigh for the blockbuster Harry Potter film franchise, with the premiere of the seventh and penultimate movie on Thursday and its young stars looking to life beyond the fictitious world of wizardry.
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" is the first of two big budget pictures to be based on the last of J.K. Rowling's hugely popular books about the boy wizard and his battle against evil set at Hogwarts school.
The film series has been a major money spinner for Hollywood studio Warner Bros and its parent company Time Warner Inc, with the first six films amassing $5.4 billion in ticket sales around the world.
Despite the risk of "Potter fatigue" and the fact that Part 1 of Deathly Hallows will not appear in 3-D as originally planned, the early signs are that Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 will maintain the impressive box office run.
"Towering over all of these (November) movies ... is the beginning of the end of the Harry Potter series, which will undoubtedly generate massive sales," said Ray Subers of cinema tracking website www.boxofficemojo.com.
"With over 57 percent of polled Box Office Mojo readers voting it as their top choice to see in November, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 rides a tidal wave of anticipation," Subers added in a preview to November releases.
Fandango, the U.S. ticketing service, said earlier this month that 61 percent of its daily ticket sales were for the Harry Potter movie, even though it does not hit theatres in the United States and Britain until November 19.
Part 2 is due for release in July, 2011, and is expected to come out in 2-D and 3-D.
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 movie trailer, part of a major marketing campaign running for several weeks already, suggests the film will feature a familiar mix of spectacular action sequences and increasingly dark storyline with the added twist of a bust-up between close friends Harry and Ron.
The actors playing the three central characters for the last decade have begun a grueling round of interviews to promote the film, and have spoken of mixed feelings about a franchise that quickly turned them into A-list stars and millionaires.
Emma Watson, who plays Hermione, told Vogue that she was shocked to learn of the size of her fortune when she was aged 17 or 18. She is estimated to be worth around 20 million pounds.
And in a hint of the personal sacrifices such wealth and stardom can demand of child stars, when asked about her new pixie-style short haircut, the 20-year-old replied:
"For the nine years I was on 'Harry Potter' I was contractually obliged not to cut my hair, not to tan. All the normal things girls do, I couldn't. So when I got the chance to change my appearance, this is what I did."
Daniel Radcliffe, 21, who plays Harry, is estimated to have a personal fortune of 40 million pounds. Speaking to the Sunday Times, he described the Potter films as "rather like the mafia. Once you're in, you're never out."
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato