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'Narnia' Shocker: 'Prince Caspian' Underwhelms with $19.3M on Friday

May 17, 2008 | 10:05am EDT

SATURDAY 8AM: Disney is reporting $19.3M for the opening day of Prince Caspian, slightly better than the $18M I reported last night. If Prince Caspian performs the same way The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe did, the Walden Media picture should finish the weekend with a $55M opening. That would still be a 16 percent dip from the franchise-starters $65M start. Meanwhile Paramount is reporting $8.6M for Iron Man, a bit less than the $9.25M I projected Friday night. That should translate to a still-spectacular $32M third weekend for Marvel's first self-produced, self-financed feature.

Theatre owners and most of the so-called box office ‘experts’ were looking for an $80M+ opening weekend for Prince Caspian, and I called for $74M-$77M, so Prince Caspian is a distinct disappointment. Industry tracking pointed toward a stronger opening, and execs from competing studios have theories about why the new Narnia has opened soft. Despite generally positive reviews (69 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), many critics mentioned that the movie is darker than the first with some extended battle sequences, which could be a contributing factor. Also, one source tells me that the faith-based marketing effort was less effective this time around.

Reclusive Christian billionaire Phillip Anschutz is the money and driving force behind the Narnia films. Anschutz worth at least $5 billion, began as an oilman before moving on to railroads and telecommunications. He has invested heavily in sports and entertainment for the last decade. His Anschutz Entertainment Group now owns more sports teams and events than any company in the world, and AEG also owns stadiums and arenas like Staples Center in Los Angeles, the Nokia Theatre in Times Square and the O2 in London. The maverick also bought up troubled movie theater chains United Artists, Edwards Theaters and Regal Cinemas, and he now controls more movie screens than any other company. Before jumping into filmmaking six years ago, he told an associate that he wanted to be "doing something significant in American Christianity."

The next chapter of The Chronicles of Narnia, titled Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is already in production with director Michael Apted at the helm. Narnia 3 is set for release May 7, 2010, and if Walden Media follows with another sequel every two years, the franchise-ender, The Last Battle, would hit theatres in 2018. Prince Caspian’s weaker-than-expected opening puts this "master plan" in question.

What Happens in Vegas (Fox) added an estimated $4.65M Friday, and it will be a solid No. 3 for the weekend with $13.75M or so. That is an excellent performance, down just 32 percent from its opening weekend, for a new cume of $40.2M. 

Speed Racer (Warner Bros) slowed to $2.4M on its second Friday, and it will manage only an estimated $8.1M, down 57 percent from last weekend. The Wachowskis anime-inspired epic will have banked only $30.2M domestic by Monday morning. Meanwhile, Sony’s Made of Honor is No. 5 with $1.65M Friday and a likely $5.3M for the three-day. The Patrick Dempsey vehicle will be just shy of $35M domestic by the end of the weekend.

Joachim Trier’s Reprise (Miramax) will probably be the top per theater performer of the weekend. The Norwegian arthouse offering, already a winner of three Amanda Awards including Best Picture, should finish the weekend with a $13,300 per theater average on three screens, holding off Prince Caspian, which will likely average $13,000 at each of its 3,929 locations.

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