The box office rose from the dead this weekend, as the lion roared and we can hear the sound of a big ape named Kong coming in the next frame. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe opened very big this weekend, and close on its heels is King Kong, which opens Wednesday – setting up a very big December at the box office. The big question for Narnia partners Disney and Walden Media was not whether the family film would hit or miss, but how big it would be – and very big it is.
Narnia Roars at the Box Office
Weekend Box Office Wrap-Up for December 9-11, 2005
By John Hamann
December 11, 2005
Chronicles, from Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, allows Narnia-maker Walden Media to make up for their large mistake last year in Around the World in 80 Days, the $100 million flop that failed to make $25 million back domestically. Disney and Walden chose to spend 5% of the marketing budget wooing Church groups a la The Passion of the Christ, and how well this would work remained a big question heading into the weekend. Mel Gibson's Christ film managed a huge opening weekend, and a big reason for that was its very strong first Sunday. The Passion of the Christ opened on Wednesday and grossed $23.6 million on its first day. On its first Friday, it grossed $22.8 million, the Saturday came in at a huge $33.1 million, and was followed by a much stronger Sunday than Friday, grossing $27.9 million. From Friday-to-Sunday, The Passion had an internal multiplier of 3.67, something not seen from opening weekends – especially not ones with hard R ratings. So now we have the PG rated The Chronicles of Narnia, also hoping for a big Sunday, which would lead to a huge weekend. Let's see how it did.
The number one film of the weekend, of course, is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, as it grossed a definitively huge $67.1 million over its first three days. That handily beats the opening of the first two LOTR films; Fellowship of the Ring grossed $47.2 million over its first Friday to Sunday, and The Two Towers opened to $61.5 million. When calculating an opening weekend, estimators take an actual figure from Friday and Saturday, and then a Sunday number is extrapolated via an educated guess. Due to the Christ allegory in the film, some thought the key to the weekend total for Narnia would be the Sunday number, so look for the estimate to change tomorrow when actual numbers are released. Currently, Narnia has been estimated with an internal multiplier (Friday gross divided by weekend gross) of only 2.8. If that internal multiplier fluctuates by a half a percentage point to the upside (the Friday snowstorm on the East Coast could mess with things), the actual figure could change to about $69 million. Estimators were obviously not looking for a hearty Sunday, as the Saturday number wasn't much higher than the Friday number ($23.9 million on Friday versus $25.3 million on Saturday). Released to a very large 3,616 venues, Disney and Walden were obviously looking for a very big opening, with Kong now only three days away from today. Chronicles ended up with a venue average of $18,546, which is very welcome news for distributors, after a long autumn of discontent. The trifecta of Potter, Narnia and Kong will make for a very Merry Christmas for theatre owners and their shareholders.
Currently, the estimate puts Narnia at second place on the all-time December openers list, but only 25th on the overall list of best debuts. This is undeniably a huge opening as it was able to open larger than the first two LOTR films. Why didn't it finish higher on the all-time list? This is mostly due to positioning on the yearly release schedule. Distributors will often sacrifice a bigger opening figure for the chance to play the December box office lottery, where if your film is positioned right, you can win extremely big due to the long school holiday positioned at the end of the month. Holiday shopping also limits the extremely big opening, as December has to be considered one of the busiest months of the year. The good news for Narnia is that it should play well throughout the Christmas season and into January, as word-of-mouth should be good if reviews are any indication. At RottenTomatoes, 128 reviews were counted, and of those, 97 were positive. That gives Narnia a 76% fresh rating, not a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter sort of a score, but still pretty good nonetheless. Narnia cost Walden Media and Disney somewhere between $150 million and $200 million to produce, and the opening weekend not only makes that production cost a safe bet in hindsight, but also gives birth to an extremely lucrative franchise.
My last point on Narnia is how it affects the next couple of weeks at the box office versus last year. December wasn't all that in 2004 with two weekends prior to Christmas failing to make $100 million from the top ten. Now, with this weekend trumping last year, and next weekend potentially setting a record with the release of Kong and the follow up weekend for Narnia, December is looking extremely good. Christmas, often the biggest moviegoing day of the year, falls on a Sunday this year, which will make up for Christmas Eve falling on a usually lucrative Saturday night. It's going to be a very interesting month at the box office, I suggest you stay tuned.
Way back in second - but extremely respectable nonetheless - is George Clooney's Syriana, the heavy drama centered around the oil business, and different governments' effect on it. The subject matter makes this a tough one to open, however Warner Bros was able to get the film above $10 million, despite being heavily overshadowed by Narnia. Syriana, which cost about $50 million to make, opened to $12 million from only 1,752 venues. That gives the Stephen Gaghan-directed film a white-hot venue average of $6,866, which is only more good news for distributors. Theatres were absolutely packed this weekend, and the reason is simple - good films were released this weekend. Good reviews and a strong limited release made this one a winner, as its total now sits at $13.5 million. If it's not too dense for general audiences, this is another film that could play strongly over the next few weeks.
The third biggest film of the weekend goes to another WB release, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, our former champ. Harry and the gang had Aslan and the White Witch to deal with this weekend, and it got thumped because of it. In Goblet's fourth weekend, the young wizard grossed $10.3 million, managing to keep its nose above $10 million for one more weekend. The gross represents a 48% drop from last weekend, which was completely expected. So far, the fourth Harry Potter film has grossed $244.1 million after four weekends, and could still be on track for $300 million, although that outlook has become a bit murkier and will come down to its performance over the Christmas week.
Walk the Line finishes fourth this weekend, and suffers somewhat just because there is so much product out there taking up so many screens. The Johnny Cash biopic grossed $5.8 million in its fourth weekend, leapfrogging Aeon Flux, which finished $3 million ahead of Walk the Line last weekend. The gross equals a drop of 40%, and the $30 million production now sits with $77 million, with the potential for $100 million still there.
Fifth goes to Yours, Mine and Ours, which doesn't suffer enough this weekend. The Dennis Quaid large family affair grossed $5.2 million in its third weekend, down 38% from the previous frame. Yours, from Paramount, cost about $50 million to make and has now earned $40.9 million.
It was a close race for sixth between Just Friends and Aeon Flux, with the Charlize Theron film coming out on top. Aeon Flux grossed $4.6 million, down a hideous 64% from last weekend. Also from Paramount, this $60 million production has earned $20.3 million, and will be a memory in two weekends. Just Friends finishes seventh, but the news isn't as bad. The Ryan Reynolds comedy has a much better hold this weekend at 30%, earning a gross of $3.9 million. After three weekends, the New Line release has grossed a respectable $26.5 million.
Eighth place goes to Pride and Prejudice, but the news can't be considered good for the Focus release. Pride dropped a surprising 43% this weekend, earning $2.5 million. Still, the throwback feature has grossed $26.4 million so far versus some tough competition.
Ninth is Chicken Little, and like Harry Potter, the little Chicken got bit this weekend by Aslan and friends. The other Disney product grossed $2.3 million, off 49% from the last frame. So far, the animated product has earned $127.2 million, and box office is probably a disappointment to the distributor.
Speaking of disappointments, tenth is Rent, which will struggle to make $35 million at the domestic box office. Rent grossed $2 million this weekend, off a huge 55%, and has now earned $26.9 million.
In limited release this weekend, the news was also good. Sony's Memoirs of a Geisha got off to a great start, earning $674,000 from only eight venues. That gives it a great start with a venue average of $84,250. Brokeback Mountain did even better at five venues, earning $545,000 and garnering a white-hot average of $109,000. I knew all Hollywood needed was a little more cowbell.
Overall, thanks to Chronicles of Narnia, box office saw a big uptick this year versus last year. The top ten this weekend grossed about $115.5 million. Last year, with Ocean's Twelve and Blade Trinity opening, the top ten could only garner $98.5 million. As I said above, next weekend will be another slaughter over last year, so stay tuned for more.