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Final Harry Potter film caps cultural phenomenon

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Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy adventure, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, which opens at midnight Friday, July 15. (Source: Jaap Buitendijk/Warners Bros.) Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter in Warner Bros. Pictures' fantasy adventure, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, which opens at midnight Friday, July 15. (Source: Jaap Buitendijk/Warners Bros.)
In this screen grab, Whitney Call of the comedy troupe Divine Comedy at Brigham Young University, sings "Firebolt," a Harry Potter spoof of  Katy Perry's "Firework." (Source: Divine Comedy/YouTube) In this screen grab, Whitney Call of the comedy troupe Divine Comedy at Brigham Young University, sings "Firebolt," a Harry Potter spoof of Katy Perry's "Firework." (Source: Divine Comedy/YouTube)
Two siblings pore over the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, at a release party in 2007. (Source: pilgrimgirl/Flickr) Two siblings pore over the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, at a release party in 2007. (Source: pilgrimgirl/Flickr)
A book release party for the seventh book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in Richfield, MN in 2007. (Source: quaziefoto/Flickr) A book release party for the seventh book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in Richfield, MN in 2007. (Source: quaziefoto/Flickr)

(RNN) - The final film of the wildly successful Harry Potter franchise opens Friday, but some fans have been preparing for months to ensure they are among the first through the theater doors at the midnight showings.

Bethany Buschkill bought her ticket for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, in January - six months ago.

Potter film could break records

The final Harry Potter film opens Friday morning with a midnight showing and a number of all-time box-office records are in jeopardy.

The film already has collected $25 million from advance sales, according to Warner Bros., meaning it's almost certain to break the record for a midnight showing: $30 million set last year by Twilight Saga; Eclipse.

The largest opening day was $72.7 million by Twilight Saga: New Moon, and the biggest opening weekend was $158.4 million by The Dark Knight.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 debuts this week in all foreign markets except China, where it will not appear until Aug. 4.

Deathly Hallows will be aiming to break the franchise's own record for a worldwide opening, $394 million, set by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The 22-year-old senior at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, IN, learned her lesson with the debut of Part 1. She waited until a mere month before that midnight premiere to purchase her ticket, and the earliest one she could find was for the 12:15 a.m. showing.

"That was too long for me to wait," said Buschkill. "I couldn't stand the thought that there were people seeing it 15 minutes before I did."

[SLIDESHOW: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2]

Early indications are she made a wise choice to shop early.

Last week, the movie ticket website Fandango announced it had sold out of tickets to more than 2,000 showings across the country, making Deathly Hallows, Part 2 the site's fastest-selling movie.

If you're late to Harry Potter mania - or a little leery of it - fans say it's best to read the books before watching the films. That will help you understand why their beloved wizard inspires such devotion, especially those who grew up with him. The films don't tell the whole story, they say.

"If you haven't read the books, there are things that are missing from the movies or things that are two-dimensional," said Whitney Call, a comedian whose devotion to Potter has made her something of a YouTube celebrity.

A member of a comedy troupe called Divine Comedy at Brigham Young University in Utah, Call wrote a song called Firebolt - to the tune of Katy Perry's Firework - describing the reasons Potter fans adore the works by J.K. Rowling. The video is nearing 100,000 views on the popular video-sharing site.

"This was just me being nerdy, just writing my heart down," Call said. "But others were like, 'Oh! This is exactly how I feel!'"

[SLIDESHOW: Harry Potter's London premiere]

A sociology professor in South Carolina has seen that same reaction in one of his classes.

"They take ownership (of Harry Potter); it's their series. It defines their generation," says Kyle Longest, PhD., who teaches in the sociology department at Furman University in Greenville, SC.

Longest taught a three-week summer school course last month called "Muggles and Mudbloods: The Sociology of Harry Potter." In this school of about 2,600 students, about 80  signed up for the course, with 60 admitted.

To ensure that he had only the truest devotees, he administered his own version of an O.W.L. - an Ordinary Wizarding Level exam - to make sure students had read the books before taking the class. The course addressed racism, classism, sexism, and how the books did or did not address these and other issues.

Longest believes young readers, especially those who grew up with Harry, can identify with the different characters because each one presents an archetype - a rich, entitled kid (Malfoy), a nerdy outcast (Neville) - and this keeps them involved in the story.

"They would identify with other characters, and Harry takes a back seat," Longest said. "These other characters take on more complexity. And they're not going to be the save-the-day type like Harry. [The students] think, 'I'm more like Luna, I'm a little more out there.'"

Eric Wright of Charlotte, NC, who was the same age as Harry when the first books came out, agrees.

"With any well-written book, I saw myself in a number of characters in the book and that's what helped me stay interested," Wright said. "It was a great thing to look forward to as I was growing up."

Longest says that because of this identification with different characters, Potter fans can be nerdy - and it's OK. Potter fandom doesn't have the nerd stigma that is attached to those who idolize Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.

"Those students … could reveal this side of them that could be seen as a little nerdish and could say, 'OK yes, I'm into HP, I've read it 13 times,'" Longest said.

That ownership carries over to criticism of the films. Some of the most loyal fans don't agree with the parts of the books that the filmmakers left out. Others don't like the scenes that were added to convey emotions that were reflected by Harry's thoughts in the books.

"They think, 'This story defines us,'" Longest said, and they are upset that some people who did not read the books are basing their opinions on the movies' watered-down versions and missing the big picture.

Call lamented that all the books weren't made into two movies like Deathly Hallows. That way, they could have told more of the back story and included subplots that were vital in the books.

"I kind of wished they'd waited until all the books came out so they knew which characters and situations would be important," Call said. "You have to realize the plot is well-developed but you don't know, if you've seen the movies, that there are holes."

Buschkill and Call might prefer the books to the movies, but they, along with millions of others, will be at the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. Call plans to dress up as one of Voldemort's seven Horcruxes.

Buschkill and Call previously have attended midnight releases for both the movies and the books. Call would go to midnight book releases with her father, who bought two books so they wouldn't have to share.

Reading the Harry Potter series often was a bonding experience between parents and children, appealing to both groups because the books walk the line between real world issues and fantasy. The books are written so that kids can relate to the characters, said Longest, and the fantasy isn't so out there that the books drive parents away.

Adriane Crouse of Jefferson City, MO, started reading the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, to her son at night when he was 6. But by second grade, Eddie was reading them on his own and getting ahead of his mom, who still wanted to read them to her son.

"He was a smart little kid," said Adriane. "But after awhile, he told me, 'I'm going to have to finish the book myself.'"

The Boy Who Lived worked his magic on Eddie, now 15, who has become an avid reader and never tires of the Harry Potter series. His mother, Adriane, was approached by a parent of another classmate when Eddie was younger, who said, "Oh, you're Eddie's mom, the Boy Who Reads."

Call, Buschkill, Wright and Eddie agree that Harry Potter books helped them become readers.

"I have no idea where I'd be right now if Harry Potter didn't exist," says Buschkill. "I wanted more. I had to find other books, so I spent a lot more time reading, which helped me in school. Plus, all the lessons it taught me."

But reading the books isn't limited to the younger generation. Katherine Dorman of Marion, IA, has started reading the books aloud to her daughters, Tess, 9, and Ella, 5. Tess isn't much of a reader, and she was hoping Harry Potter would get her daughter interested in books.

Dorman read ahead in the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, to see if anything would scare her younger daughter. At least, that's what she told her older daughter who caught her reading it.

"I stayed up and finished the book on my own," she said. "I said I did that so I knew what was coming for Ella. The giant spiders would've been too much, but really I wanted to know what happened."

Bucshkill's nephew is now reading the first book in the series, and she's excited about converting another generation. She's reading the book along with him so they can discuss it.

Longest is debating whether he'll teach another class about Harry Potter but hasn't ruled out putting the course into his rotation of sociology classes.

"We'll see if in three or five years if there is still interest," he says. "Will it still be interesting? I think it will be, but we'll see."

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