Theme Park Insider

Happy Fifth Birthday to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

June 18, 2015, 10:39 AM · The history of the Universal Studios theme parks can be divided into two eras: Before June 18, 2010 and After June 18, 2010. That was the date that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure theme park... and changed the theme park industry.

Opening the Wizarding World
Harry Potter film stars Tom Felton, Michael Gambon, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe at the opening of the Wizarding World on June 18, 2010.

Since that day, annual attendance at Islands of Adventure has increased 76 percent — from 4.6 million to 8.1 million a year, according to the TEA/AECOM annual attendance report. Universal's theme park revenue and profits have soared, thanks to the sales of millions of magic wands, house robes and Butterbeers. The increased income from the Wizarding World not only has led Universal to bring Harry Potter-themed lands to its Universal Studios theme parks in Florida, Japan and Hollywood, it's helped pay for upgrades and expansion throughout the chain.

Harry Potter is driving the billion-dollar-plus transformation of the original Universal Studios Hollywood park, which today looks nothing like it did five years ago. The Wizarding World won't open in Hollywood until next spring, but already the park has rebuilt its Upper Lot to accommodate it, tearing out features that didn't live up to the new theming and decoration standards set by Universal Creative's work on the Wizarding World, and replacing them with new features that do, including a new Simpsons-themed Springfield USA and Despicable Me-themed miniland.

The Wizarding World's influence extends far beyond Universal's theme parks, of course. Down the road from Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World built a New Fantasyland because of Harry Potter. It's building an Avatar-themed land at Disney's Animal Kingdom, because of Harry Potter. With the Wizarding World driving Universal Studios Japan to record attendance — nearly 12 million visitors last year — the Tokyo Disney Resort is responding with a US$5 billion expansion plan of its own, including a new Frozen-themed land to come in Tokyo DisneySea. One wonders how the Disneyland Resort will respond when Universal opens the Wizarding World in Hollywood next year, but the past five years teaches us that it will have to respond, too.

Yes, Disney remains the overwhelming leader in global theme park attendance, drawing 134 million visitors last year, to Universal's 40 million. But five years ago, Universal drew only 23.7 million visitors. Thanks in large part to Harry Potter and the massive expansion that franchise has enabled, Universal's overall annual attendance has grown by 70 percent, compared with Disney's 12.8 percent growth over the same period.

Other chains are taking note. Would Six Flags — a chain known almost exclusively for its roller coasters — have invested tens of millions of dollars to build its new Justice League Battle for Metropolis dark rides has Harry Potter not made the convincing business case for how a non-Disney park can profit from a well-themed, IP-driven family dark ride attraction?

Of course, not every attempt to make a Potter-like play has succeeded. SeaWorld Orlando made the largest capital investment in its history to build its Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin dark ride, only to see the ride open to tepid reviews and fail to attract an audience. SeaWorld Orlando, more than any other park, has suffered from Potter, as millions of Orlando theme park visitors have replaced a visit to SeaWorld — once the strong number two in the Orlando market — with a visit to Universal Orlando on their "non-Disney" Orlando vacation days.

Potter allowed Universal to buy out its former partner, the Blackstone Group, to assume 100-percent ownership of the Universal Orlando Resort. Maybe it's just coincidence, but the success fueled by Harry Potter seems to have spread beyond the theme parks into other aspects of Universal's operation. Today, Universal is crushing its competition in the movie business as it never has before, leading the 2015 box office with Furious 7, Jurassic World, Fifty Shades of Grey, and even Pitch Perfect 2 beating Disney's much-hyped Tomorrowland. And that's with certain hit Minions and potential hit Steve Jobs still to come. The only film to beat Universal's slate this year is Disney's Avengers: Age of Ultron, but... who owns the Orlando theme park rights to that franchise?

Yep, Universal.

So, happy birthday, Wizarding World. And congratulations to Universal for bringing it to life. You've changed the theme park industry for the better, and theme park fans cannot wait to see what the industry does next in its continuing attempts to build the next "Wizarding World."

If you'd like to read more about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and its development, please take a look at our booklet, Theme Park Insider Visits The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, available now on Amazon.

Replies (16)

June 18, 2015 at 10:49 AM · Excellent article Robert! It is so exciting to see where all this is going. . . I hope every day that Universal will develop the Star Trek IP into an immersive land in their Universal Studios park. That would be a wonderful way for Universal to compete with the upcoming Star Wars Land at Hollywood Studios. . . GO UNIVERSAL!!!
June 18, 2015 at 10:52 AM · And thanks to JK Rowling, Warner & Universal Creative for demanding & maintaining the high standards that have made the HP lands true icons of the theme park industry.
June 18, 2015 at 10:57 AM · I was there on opening day by complete accident, and got to experience the Wizarding World as a brand-new attraction. One of the most memorable experiences of my life. I remember thinking at the time, "well, things will be different from this point on..."
June 18, 2015 at 11:17 AM · Looking forward to see how Universal Studios Hollywood will do in comparison. Potter will turn this sleepy park into competition against Disneyland in Southern California.
June 18, 2015 at 11:23 AM · Happy birthday wizarding world! I was lucky enough to be staying on site the week before it opened. I was upset by the thought that we would miss out as we were due to fly home two days before the official opening but when we arrived at the hotel they gave us the exciting news that it was open to hotel guests for a couple of hours every morning. It meant we didn't have the huge crowds the area saw when it first opened.
June 18, 2015 at 11:42 AM · The author is RIGHT! Universal has succeeded with their NEW rides. Their following the theme park rule book created by Walt Disney. Everyone agrees, they still have a long way to go. Universal execs have even admitted this fact internally and publically.

Now consider the annual profits they give away to Spielberg, JK/Warner Bros, Marvel, SONY and soon Nintendo because they don't own the IP. What ONE IP in DIS parks does DIS not own? AVATAR, but they were smart to obtain WW rights that don't include gate admission profit participation.

Now consider the box office profit participations they gave away on Jurassic World! Legendary financed 25%, Spielberg also gets his first dollar gross. DIS solely finances their movies.

Wait a minute... I SCREWED UP trying to support the author's Universal bias.

June 18, 2015 at 4:22 PM · No, you screwed up by being an anonymous coward when you accused somebody else of having a bias.

Here's another piece of advice. If you are going to be snarky at least try to use the right word. The contraction of THEY ARE is spelled THEY'RE not THEIR.

Bad logic, bad grammar, no courage of conviction - just another fanboy.

June 18, 2015 at 4:28 PM · Dont forget Ted 2 will also make Universal a good amount of cash as well, starting in a week or so.

Simply put... Wizarding World = awesomeness!

Congrats Universal you deserve it and as theme park and even as movie fans as was mentioned in the article, we win as well!

June 18, 2015 at 6:17 PM · @Anon Mouse

The thing about Universal Hollywood is that its not a "sleepy little park". Its a little park in terms of size, but its FAR from sleepy. Last year the park pulled close to 7 million people and saw an 11% increase in attendance over the previous year thanks to Minion Mayhem alone. And the park has seen year over year increases in attendance since 2010 when King Kong opened.

In 2010 Harry Potter opened in a struggling Islands of Adventure park and immediately turned that park around. In 2016 Harry Potter will open in a park that is not struggling and is doing just fine without Potter. I can't even begin to imagine the impact Potter is going to have on Hollywood and Socal. Its going to be nuts!

I would not be surprised in the least if Universal Hollywood overtakes DCA as the number 2 park in SoCal!

June 18, 2015 at 10:18 PM · That day five years ago remains the most surreal experience I've had while working on Theme Park Insider. Helicopters everywhere. Tens of thousands of people lined up behind us in an eighth-hour queue. But, to the few dozen photographers gathered in front of Hogsmeade, it just seemed like an intimate little ceremony. I took that photo above, and barely used much zoom to get it. We were all that close. Only when we left the ceremony could we begin to see the enormity of the crowd waiting. Really, there was no way to appreciate it except from the air, in one of those helicopters.
June 18, 2015 at 10:27 PM · The latest stats are in and Islands of Adventure is back to flat attendance. Yes, no drop, but they were surprised at no increase. Even a minimal increase off Harry Potter 2 was expected. Comcast needs for it to grow as DIS has moved up WDW expansion plans. Yes, moved up not placed WDW into a panic desperately grabbing at ideas. UNI Creatives acknowledge WDW Imagineering has file cabinets of ideas.

Universal Studios Hollywood is still suffering. Management understands Harry Potter will create a HUGE bump in attendance, but one or two HP attractions do not make a long term success. Or an all day one! Again, Islands of Adventure's flat attendance. Thus, the Evolution Plan. Universal management is still trying to figure out how to make USH a 12 hour experience. And they talk a lot about Disneyland Resorts addition of STAR WARS and MARVEL and the dramatic effect it will have on their drive for 12 hours. HINT: land locked and EPlan limitations

June 18, 2015 at 11:33 PM · Any truth to the rumor that Ministry of Magic is the next Potter expansion in the works?
June 19, 2015 at 4:05 AM · Furious 7 and most likely Jurassic World will/have already passed Age of Ultron in box office gross...
June 19, 2015 at 7:42 AM · I personally am not a huge Harry Potter fan but there is no denying that WWHOP is a game changer. That being said does anyone have any projections on what will happen to attendance levels at Universal in Orlando once USH and Japan open their own versions? Do we expect attendance to continue to rise or fall slightly or just remain steady?
June 19, 2015 at 10:48 AM · By luck, I was at Universal Orlando on Monday afternoon (6/15) BEFORE the official opening and walked over to Hogsmeade WWoHP and, lo and behold, it was a soft opening!!! I rode Forbidden Journey, Hippogriff, Dragons Challenge, saw Ollivanders and walked the shops and took several photos. This was all done in about 2 hours!!!

Then I watched the news on opening day and saw the crowds and considered myself the luckiest person (along with the other soft opening guests). I didn't return until September because of the crowds, but hey, I saw it already (smug). I knew something new and special had arrived.

June 23, 2015 at 9:03 AM · If you go back and read all of my comments on this website (which I don't recommend, my comments are usually super long...) then you know how much of a diehard Disney Fanatic I am. You can give me the most irrefutable piece of evidence that Disney is crap, and I'll still defend Disney with every fiber of my being. But even so, there's no denying that Harry Potter has had a monumental impact on the amusement industry. I remember when I took my first step into Hogsmeade...for the first time in a Universal park I felt like I was in another world, and completely forgot I was in a theme park! Up until that point, the only other place where I had ever gotten that feeling was at a Disney park!

Also, in response to Orrin, unless the rumors of another expansion with the Ministry of Magic is true, then Potter will probably stop raking in the dough for Universal a few years down the road, and for two reasons.

1. There would be no need for theme park goers on the Pacific Coast to visit. Why make the long journey all the way to Florida with a Wizarding World in both California and Japan?

2. The franchise will probably lose it's relevance. Now, true, certain Disney attractions, such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain have been around for 40 years and are still really popular, but that's because Disney will often close them down for maintenance so that it stays fresh; which in turn have made them appeal to countless generations of fans, giving them a huge nostalgia factor. Universal, unfortunately, could care less about nostalgia. Whenever an older attraction starts showing it's age and/or it's IP is no longer relevant, the attraction either becomes really neglected and very outdated and thus falls into obscurity (ET, Twister...) or it will just get replaced (Jaws, Ghostbusters). Fortunately, Universal is smart and knows that they can't permanently rely on Potter, hence why they're building Kong, Fast & Furious and Nintendo attractions.

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