Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
December 13, 2010

That's the Metrodome, not a pastry.

Maybe it would do better if it weren't so hard to get to

Kim Hollis: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, opened to $24 million. To put this number in perspective, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe earned $23 million on its first day. Why are audiences not interested in making return trips to Narnia?

Edwin Davies: The obvious reason for the Narnia series' lack of success is that, aside from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the books don't really have that much of a presence in popular culture and so whilst there was a definite and large audience for the first film, each subsequent film has had to rely more on the fact that they are part of a film franchise, rather than because the books they are based on are popular. (Contrast that with the Harry Potter series, where each film is not only part of a big name franchise, but each installment is based on a book which is hugely popular in its own right and you'll see what I mean.)

That brings us to the films themselves. When The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe came out in 2005, it was positioned as the natural successor to The Lord of the Rings films, which had dominated that time of the year from 2001-2003. Both were based on acclaimed books with generations of fans waiting to see the screen version, both promised fantasy action on a colossal scale, and both centered on quests that took place in outlandish worlds but were focused on stories that were straightforward enough that anyone could understand them without getting lost in the mythology. If that wasn't enough, the authors of the original books were friends. The difference was that whilst the Lord of the Rings trilogy has gone on to be acknowledged as a classic of modern film-making, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was generally regarded as a good but not spectacular fantasy film. Lots of people saw it and liked it (it wound up with $291.7 million domestic), but it didn't seem to generate the fervor that LotR did.

To me, that is crucial, because if the films were great, they would inspire people to go and check out the other books, building the audience for the next film and raising the awareness of the series as a whole. Whilst I'm sure that there are some people for whom that is true, it doesn't seem to have happened enough. Of the people who saw the first Narnia film, a significant proportion felt like that they had seen all they needed to see. Good to average films don't create the sort of large, rabid fanbase that a series like Narnia needs to keep going.

Reagen Sulewski: I recall this same discussion a couple of years ago with Prince Caspian, and I think it boils down to largely the same reason - people just don't know the books beyond The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. There's also a larger and more fatal reason - they're also not very good. In execution, these have been pale imitations of the Lord of the Rings films, and have lost their epic feel.

While it was sort of unavoidable, the gap between the films also didn't help - you really need to get these out one a year or at the most 18 months in order to keep the fires stoked.

Josh Spiegel: I agree with the idea that the other novels just aren't well-known. What's more, only two of the child actors return for a substantial amount of time for Voyage of the Dawn Treader. There's just a lack of familiarity that Liam Neeson's booming voice can't make up for. This result is, however, even a little less than I'd figured, what with high ticket prices and the 3D boost that should have come. Also, as Reagen says, the first two weren't that great, and this one isn't, apparently, any better.

Brett Beach: Good points all so far. I would also argue a few other things. One: the dreaded Ocean's 12 effect where a previous film's derailment of the franchise leaves people wary to approach the next one (although to be fair Ocean's 13 had an opening on par with the other two whereas Dawn Treader's weekend is down over 50% from Prince Caspian, and that's with a 3D surcharge). That is coupled with quite poor reviews that leave parents wondering if paying to see it in 3D is worth it. I have only read the first two books - before seeing the film - but I have come across how the filmmakers acknowledged that this and the rest of the series aren't so easily adaptable into films. The definite problem, especially in contrast to Potter/LOTR/Twilight is that you aren't following the same characters through all of the books: the throughline would have to be a love of Narnia itself and not the children on one hand or the Narnia-ites on the other.

Matthew Huntley: I may be the only one on this thread who feels there was an improvement between The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. As Edwin pointed out, the first film was good, but Caspian was better - the children had grown as actors; the story was more interesting and had a greater sense of urgency; and the action was more intense and exciting. Other than the fierce competition it faced back in 2008 (with Iron Man and Indiana Jones), I don't understand why Caspian created such a gap between it and its predecessor (as far as box-office is concerned).

Now, if The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was the first film in the series to create such a gap, it would make more sense. I saw it yesterday and the series has definitely taken a step back with this one. It's not a bad film (far from it), but it's gone from being appealing to both kids and adults to just kids, and I could sense this in the marketing campaign. That alone probably turned many adults away. Plus with all those who were disappointed with Caspian (again, I don't understand why), the first film's audience has depreciated by quite a large margin. Why this started between the first and second installments remains unclear to me, but from here on out (if there even is a "from here on out" with the Narnia films), I can't the franchise recovering and this probably the last we've seen of it.

Michael Lynderey: The box office depreciation of the Narnia series has been pretty consistent. But not just the box office - the critical reception the last two films have gotten wasn't nearly as approving as that for the first. Aside from that, these films have to be looked at in the context of where and when they went into combat: the first film had the December kids' movie slot all to itself (despite what King Kong may have believed), while the second film came in the middle of a crowded row of May action-adventure that sandwiched itself between Iron Man and Indiana Jones. Of course, the name recognition for the first film is really the leading factor, but the Narnia films are otherwise behaving like other franchises that get into diminishing returns with each film.

Three words: The Golden Compass

Reagen Sulewski: If they do decide to continue, they're going to have to work hard at getting these $200 million plus budgets down to a reasonable amount. But a big problem is that the next two books in the series are the least remarkable and least cinematic of the series. A big-screen The Horse And His Boy would be an epic disaster. And Dawn Treader at least had some casual familiarity but I doubt The Silver Chair would come up for anyone in the general public as one of the Narnia books.

Josh Spiegel: I think it depends on how the film does overseas. The news has already come out that it made $81 million everywhere except North America, so there is still some demand for the film around the world. But if the movie ends up disappointing there, in the long run, yeah, Fox should cut the cord. Not many people are clamoring for more of these movies, so I'm not sure that Fox is going to get that much bang for their buck. Disney may well end up soaring or flopping with Tron: Legacy next weekend, but to me, they made the right call in kicking Narnia to the curb.

Edwin Davies: I agree with Reagan that the source material may be the biggest challenge if they decide to make the rest of the books. The next book in the series, The Silver Chair, doesn't feature any of the characters from the first few books apart from side characters like Aslan, and without that thread running from one film to the next the audience could lose interest. It'd be like making Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest without Captain Jack Sparrow. Some people might be drawn in by franchise recognition, but most people would need a somewhat familiar face to latch onto. It also doesn't help that the stories get less focused as the series goes on, so the studio would either have to change them and risk alienating the more passionate fans, or make films that casual moviegoers might find a bit weird and off-putting. It's an unenviable situation.

Matthew Huntley: Based on the information I only know right now, I think Fox should pull the plug. Even with its $105 million worldwide debut, the production budget alone for Dawn Treader was $150 million. When all the marketing costs are taken into account, we're looking at over $200 million, which means the movie's final gross would have to be at least $300 million just so the studio could show a little profit (after the theaters take their shares). With the holidays coming up, that could happen, but not likely. A series like this is just too expensive to keep going (even though the completionist inside me would like it to).

Kim, could you re-post this same question the weekend after New Years? I'm curious to see if our responses will change after the holiday numbers are released.

Michael Lynderey: I would say that's it. Yes, some franchises have pulled themselves up out of the rut, but I just don't see where they have left to go here, barring some grand but improbable gestures - like adding in a few name stars (...Taylor Lautner and Justin Bieber?), acquiring a mega-star director (James Cameron?!?), or unleashing the next film in 3D (just kidding). I still think this particular Narnia film can make it to $100 million, but whether the next one is out in May or December, I don't think it could.

Perhaps with more boy wizards, house elves, or hobbitses...

Kim Hollis: Do Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings stand out that much more for their triumphs?

Josh Spiegel: What Walden Media has tried to do with Narnia is what Warner Bros. successfully did with Harry Potter: bring to life a seven-book series in at least that many films. The undertaking is incredible whether the books are old or are still being released. The Lord of the Rings trilogy succeeds where Narnia does not by being consistently action-packed enough to be turned into films, and the Harry Potter series is similarly structured in a very cinematic sense. Narnia isn't the same, unfortunately.

Edwin Davies: The Harry Potter series is impressive because of the consistency it has displayed over the last decade. The series has been able to hold onto most of its audience in a way which Narnia simply has not been able to do, something which it has achieved partly through dint of the films being a better product but also because of the clockwork precision involved in making the series. They have delivered a film almost every year since 2001, ensuring that there was little possibility that people would forget about the series, which seems to have been one of the big stumbling blocks for the Narnia films. Though, in Narnia's defense, the Harry Potter film series benefited greatly from the fact that new Potter books were being released as the films were, and each of these was a huge event in itself which fed into the excitement surrounding the films, something which the Narnia series couldn't possibly hope for. Though if C.S. Lewis did rise from the grave to write another Narnia novel, I'm sure it'd be a pretty big deal.

Matthew Huntley: I would say Harry Potter does not stand out as much as LOTR. Like Edwin said, the parallel releasing of the latter Harry Potter books with the movies made the awareness that much higher, a luxury that makes it sort of unfair to compare to Narnia.

LOTR, on the other hand, does stand out and its success remains incredible. However, I'd be curious to know if The Hobbit finds similar success. When that film finally comes out, it will have been (likely) ten years since the last LOTR film. Will such a huge gap have a negative effect on its box-office? Only time will tell.

Jim Van Nest: I would argue that what WB has done with Harry Potter is nothing short of amazing. Tell me the last time any series got to a fourth movie that was any good. The fact that they've now put out seven HP films that have all had the same high level of quality, to me, is incredible. Not once has WB just "phoned one in" to get the inevitable cash flow...each film has actually been good. Believe me, if the Potter flicks started to suck, their audience would shrink as well. I think the success of the franchise is at least partially due to the quality of the projects.

Michael Lynderey: It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, most of the time. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are mega-books and made for mega-movies on the same scale. The same is true in many ways of the first Narnia title. The rest were never as popular or ranked on the same level as the majority of Potter and Rings books, so the box office responded in kind. How often does a really well-selling book make for a total box office disappointment? It happens, but not most of the time.