Hogwarts' famous young wizards joined an estimated 6000 first-nighters in a red-carpet opening at Radio City Music Hall.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, created a big buzz outside the famed theatre on Sunday as crowds eight rows deep jammed the sidewalk for a glimpse of Daniel Radcliffe, the 14-year-old actor who plays Harry, and his co-stars, Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron).
Inside, an enthusiastic audience cheered the young trio and eight other cast members brought on to the stage before the screening, including Robbie Coltrane, who plays good-natured giant Hagrid, and Alan Rickman, who portrays the sneering, sinister potions teacher, Severus Snape.
The movie will have its European premiere next weekend in London and will open around the world on 4 June.
The third film of the phenomenally successful fantasy book series written by JK Rowling deals with more sophisticated themes than the first two films, reflecting the growing maturity of the teen wizards.
Directed by Mexican Alfonso Cuaron, who brought Oscar-nominated Y Tu Mama Tambien to the screen, the new film spends little time explaining the wizard world in contrast to the exposition in Sorcerer's Stone, (2001) and Chamber of Secrets, (2002) the first two Harry Potter flicks, directed by Chris Columbus.
The young wizard's escapades are
translated into many languages
Instead, the audience is hauled immediately into the dark tale of a wizard who has escaped prison and is believed to be hunting down Potter, who ends up terrorised by the spooky dementors, the dreaded guards of Azkaban prison.
Many in the opening night crowd said Azkaban is the best Harry Potter movie yet. "It might be scary for some little kids, but I thought it was very good," said Al Ades, 11. "I think the adventures are more interesting."
"I thought it was really good, way better than the other ones," said 10-year-old Juliet Garrett Wolosoff. "It seemed more realistic than the others."
"I liked the book better. They were rushing the movie a little"
a nine-year-old fan
Priti Malik, 18, liked the special effects. "I jumped at least 20 times in the movie," she said. For some, the pacing was too fast.
Hannah Burwell, nine, said the story was "sometimes confusing because they said it so fast".
"I liked the book better," said nine-year-old Samantha Beberman. "They were rushing the movie a little."
Anuj Malhotra, 18, who is unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series, said he was lost at the movie. "I was utterly confused the whole time," he said. "It made no sense."
Sydney Stewart, a 12-year-old fan of the series, had no such problems. "It was cool," she said.