Just over 14 years ago, the first installment of what would become one of the most popular pieces of recent literature hit the shelves.

An 11-year-old, black-haired English boy was thrown into a previously unknown world of wizards, witches, goblins and more, and the world was swept away with him on his journey.

After 14 years, seven books and seven films, the final film chapter of the Harry Potter saga - "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" - is being released to the American public on Friday, July 15.

One local Potter fan summed up the momentous occasion as "bittersweet."

When the final book was released in 2007, it became the fastest selling book ever when 15 million copies were purchased in the first 24 hours. As the figures roll in, time will tell if the final film will stack up to the success of the book. But all signs point to this film being the biggest in the series.

"It's amazing that it has come this far," said Tom Bross, a freshman at Arizona State University. "I don't think I ever saw it ending. It's definitely bittersweet."

AMC Ahwatukee 24 showed the final Harry Potter movie at midnight Thursday on up to five screens, according to General Manager John Hancock, adding that they opened as many theaters as needed to accommodate the audience.

The local theater also hosted a back-to-back special feature with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 that began at 9 p.m. with Part 2 starting afterward.

For the youth around the nation, the Harry Potter franchise has been around nearly their entire lives. For kids entering college this year, they would have been just 3 or 4 years old at the time the first book came out.

"I think I started reading them in sixth grade and my dad and I would read the books every night and I just fell in love with them," said Julia Thatcher, a senior at Desert Vista High School. "I contemplated not watching (the final film). The moment it is over, that is the moment Harry Potter is truly done. It's sad to think it is the end."

For a book series that has sold about 450 million copies and a movie franchise that has grossed more than $6 billion (not counting what the final chapter will bring in), Harry Potter will never really leave the public eye. But the question is, will it be just this generation's thing?

"Part of me thinks it's a cult thing of this generation and to be a part of it is so cool," Bross said. "Harry Potter is something so completely different from reality and her stories and the way she makes everything fit together, that is what makes the series special."

Also opening at AMC Ahwatukee 24 on Friday is "The Undefeated: Sarah Palin Documentary." The Ahwatukee Foothills theater will be the only one in the state showing the film.

Hancock said he expected the theater to be busy with both films opening on Friday.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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