Last wave of the wand for Harry Potter film series

The final Harry Potter film has its world premiere in London on Thursday, an action-packed finale bringing the curtain down on a saga that has enthralled audiences worldwide.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2" will see the boy wizard take on the evil Lord Voldemort in an epic showdown.

Stars from the highly successful film series will walk down the red carpet in London for the premiere of the final movie, the second of two films based on the seventh and final Potter book by British author J. K. Rowling.

Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Potter, is taking time off from appearing in a Broadway musical to attend the premiere, along with Hermione Granger actress Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley.

The central trio of actors have made their fortunes but now face the challenge of throwing off their on-screen characters and forging careers outside the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The film will be released in British and US cinemas on July 15 and is the first Potter movie to hit the screens in a 3D version as well as the regular release.

The first Harry Potter film was released in 2001, four years after Rowling published her first book, and the seven films so far have earned 6.4 billion dollars (4.4 billion euros) globally.

Fans have waited eagerly since the release of "Part 1" in November last year for the concluding chapter.

"Part 2" covers the final third of the book and will be an action-packed adventure - a marked contrast to "Part 1", a slow-paced scene-setter for the final, explosive battle between Potter and his allies and Voldemort's dark forces.

The movie is directed by David Yates, who has shot three of the previous seven films, including Part 1, which was made at the same time. Principal photography on both parts ended in June 2010.

When Rowling, then a struggling single mother, published her first Potter novel, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" in 1997, she set off a global craze for the fantasy world she created.

More than 400 million copies of the Potter books have been sold and they have been translated into 69 languages.

The films have likewise been adored the world over.

"It's been beyond my wildest dreams," said producer David Heyman.

"I could never have imagined when we embarked on the first film the level of response from audiences through the years."

The main Potter actors have all earned a fortune - Radcliffe £42 million ($67.5 million, 46.5 million euros), Watson £22 million and Grint £20 million, according to The Sunday Times newspaper's rich list - but have had varying degrees of success in moving on.

Radcliffe, 21, has taken critics and the public by surprise by singing and dancing in the 1950s musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" in New York, but he concedes that the Potter films have marked him forever.

"I know I'll never see a frame of these films that I don't connect immediately to a memory of a place or a time or a person," he said.

"Even now I can't fully express how important it's been to me, but I can say it was a great time and it's something I will never be able to recreate."

Watson, also 21, is moving between acting, fashion and modelling. She appears in in two forthcoming US films: "My Week with Marilyn", to be released in November, and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", due out next year.

Grint, 22, is pursuing an acting career, despite his non-Potter films flopping. He will appear next year in a low-budget Norwegian World War II film.

"The Harry Potter experience was an amazing time of my life, and something I'll never forget," he said.

As for Rowling, she laid down her pen - and Harry's magic wand - when she finished the seventh book in 2007. But the author has yet to let go of her creation.

Last month she unveiled an interactive website featuring new material about Potter's world, and announced that his adventures would be sold as e-books for the first time.

Her fortune is estimated at £530 million, according to The Sunday Times rich list.