Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter blockbusters, could find itself in an awkward position when author J.K. Rowling lets the black cat out of the bag next month about the ultimate fate of her characters.
Ten days after the fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, hits theaters July 11, the world will know what happens to the bespectacled boy wizard and the rest of his Hogwarts gang with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rowling's seventh and final book in the series.
Last year Rowling revealed in interviews that she would kill off two characters and that one character "got a reprieve," never acknowledging whether Harry is among them. Potter fans have been vigorously debating on Web sites whether the British author will dare terminate the beloved star of what has become the biggest-selling series in literary history.
Warner doesn't expect any spoilers to hurt box-office sales of its coming film. Indeed, the flurry of publicity surrounding the release of a new movie and book could feed sales for both.
But there are two Harry Potter sequels to go during the next three years. Could knowing how it all ends dissuade moviegoers from turning out to see them?
Warner President Alan Horn said he wasn't worried.
"Whatever happens to Harry Potter, I would not anticipate it hurting the movie or future movies in any way," he said.
Horn said that four months before the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was released in 2005, moviegoers had already learned in Rowling's sixth book that Albus Dumbledore - headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry - had died.
"And he was a beloved character," Horn said.
Horn also noted that James Cameron's 1997 Titanic was a blockbuster even though it was well known that the luxury liner sank, killing most of its passengers. And, Horn said, fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings knew the ending of the trilogy but still turned out in force for the films.
According to Rowling's U.S. publisher, Scholastic Inc., the books have sold 325 million copies in 200 countries in 65 languages. Of that total, 54.5 million were sold in the United States.
Warner is laying plans for its final two films. Horn said that Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, who started the series at 11 and turns 18 next month, is committed to continuing in his role.
The sixth Potter film begins production in September for release in November 2008. The seventh film release is planned for the summer or the fall of 2010.
Daun Taubin, Warner's domestic marketing president, said that though devoted Potter fans, including her 15-year-old daughter, are sad that Rowling's popular fantasy stories are coming to an end, they can take solace that there's life beyond the books.
"The movies allow the stories to live on," Taubin said. "So fans can relive the experience in a different way."
Claudia Eller writes for the Los Angeles Times.