Narnia: three great tastes that taste great together!
Monday Morning Quarterback Part One
By BOP Staff
December 12, 2005
Kim Hollis: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe exploded into theaters with $67.1 million in its debut frame. It's in second place after The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for biggest December opener ever. To what can we attribute this fantastic performance?
David Mumpower: The positioning of this film has been sublime. Its lineage can trace back to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and The Passion of the Christ. If you can pull off that marketing trifecta, your film is going to be a blockbuster.
Reagen Sulewski: I think the Lord of the Rings series really opened the door for films like this, although it can't be overlooked that this has been the #2 fantasy book series for around 50 years.
Joel Corcoran: I think some innovative marketing efforts around a very well done movie put the Narnia movie into second place. And like the Lord of the Rings movies, there is a very devoted fan base that has read and loved the books for years.
Kim Hollis: I think it's also important to acknowledge the kid-friendly nature of the film. It's PG, which means parents can feel some comfort in taking their children to the movie; also, it's shorter than The Lord of the Rings stuff, which can be important in that regard as well. Another point is that since it's a familiar tale that spans generations, it's going to translate to an extremely large demographic.
Joel Corcoran: Absolutely, Kim. It's a kid-friendly film, but it's equally adult-friendly.
David Mumpower: Most importantly, the religious undertones of both the literary work and its theatrical adaptation draw in an movie audience who would otherwise not go to movies.
Kim Hollis: For Disney and Walden Media to specifically market the film to churches and religious leaders (who were invited to free screenings) was an incredibly savvy move.
Joel Corcoran: That's an interesting point, David, although Narnia doesn't have the direct appeal to some Christian movie-goers that other films do, like Passion of the Christ. Narnia deals with religious symbolism, rather than a Biblical tale. The fact that Walden Media did such a good job in their marketing efforts is an indication of their talents.
David Mumpower: What we also need to factor in is that we are comparing Narnia to the third film in the Lord of the Rings series. The introductory film, Fellowship of the Ring, only opened to $47.2 million. Narnia torched that.
Religious symbolism without the scourging!
Kim Hollis: On the other hand, it has appeal to some Christian movie-goers who don't want graphic violence or an R-rating.
David Mumpower: That's a great point, Kim. A religious film that doesn't have scourging would be appeal to the critics of The Passion of the Christ who felt it was too accurate an interpretation of key Biblical sequences. A fuzzy lion makes for a more genteel interpretation. I know which one Ned Flanders would prefer.
Reagen Sulewski: But Rod would still find it blasphemous.
Joel Corcoran: Or an inaccurate interpretation of key Biblical sequences, depending on your point of view. Personally, I think Gibson's Passion of Christ was just a much a creative interpretation of scripture as The Last Temptation of Christ. But Narnia avoids all of those "is it Biblical or not?" questions because it's a symbolic interpretation of Biblical themes, rather than Biblical tales.
Kim Hollis: Given the proliferation of fantasy as a genre in books, video games and movies, these sort of projects look to be huge wins if done well.
Joel Corcoran: I agree with the emphasis on "if done well."
If you religiously build it, they will come.
David Mumpower: Narnia also does a nice job of integrating the themes of sacrifice implicit to the story of Jesus Christ while keeping them much more juvenile (ergo: safer) in tone.
Kim Hollis: From the first teaser for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you could tell that it had been handled with great care. I think audiences who loved the C.S. Lewis stories knew that and the anticipation spread from there.
David Mumpower: That's absolutely true. The cinematography in the initial teaser combined with the little girl's lip biting has placed this project in the Cinematic Heavyweights of 2005 category for a long time now.
Joel Corcoran: I completely agree. Which is something that Narnia followed (or copied) from the Lord of the Rings.
Kim Hollis: Given the fact that I never really felt the buzz about this film as hugely as I did Fellowship of the Rings in the months preceding its release, the fact that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe just flew right past it blows me away. I have to attribute some of that to churchgoing viewers.
David Mumpower: That demographic is so potent because they are the unaccountable X-factor.
Reagen Sulewski: Well, again, I wouldn't say it's so much "flying past it" as it is capitalizing on a trend.
David Mumpower: You don't consider a $20 million improvement in opening weekend box office "flying past it"?
Is Narnia the de facto successor to Lord of the Rings?
Reagen Sulewski: After five years, and the other intangibles mentioned, no. This isn't to take anything away from Narnia, as it did well on its own. But it doesn't do this well without the Rings series.
David Mumpower: I think it does because it still taps into the majesty wizard of Potter overlapping with the demographic of Passion of the Christ. Honestly, the Lord of the Rings tie-in you guys are making seems largely superfluous to me. And that's allowing for the fact that the two writers of these works were friends.
Reagen Sulewski: I think it's unmistakable. Call it "proof of concept".
David Mumpower: But Potter still gives that rub. To the audience who attended opening weekend, Potter themes with religious undertones is the selling point even if we don't have a Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Kim Hollis: Well, I think there is some overlap between LOTR fans and Narnia fans - both are classic fantasy series and generally people who are fans of the genre would enjoy both. With that said, I do think that a lot of people do fall either into the "Narnia" camp or the "Tolkien" camp oftentimes. It's a difference between fantasy aimed at younger readers and fantasy targeted toward more mature, wise readers.
Joel Corcoran: I think the Lord of the Rings tie-in deals with the fantasy elements of the Narnia stories, and the benchmark that Return of the King set previously for a December release. I think this movie incorporates visual and story elements from the Lord of the Rings series and the Harry Potter series, with a marketing effort akin to Gibson's Passion of Christ.
Kim Hollis: Having seen the Potter films, the LOTR films and Narnia, I would tend to disagree with that statement. I think each one is fairly distinct other than the fact that they all use special effects and some sweeping, gorgeous landscapes (but then so do videogames like Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem, etc. etc.)
Reagen Sulewski: I don't think audiences think that way. Think of all the crappy films that have done moderately well because they're "CGI".
David Mumpower: Audiences are developing a better CGI-crap detector (though unfortunately not a foolproof one), but the shot of the kids walking across an ice bridge is indicative of a special project.
Kim Hollis: I think audiences are a lot more discerning than we sometimes give them credit for. Sure, there's the occasional Yours, Mine and Ours that slips through, but an instinct for quality is starting to develop.
Reagen Sulewski: Oh, absolutely, which is why it broke through to be what it was. But someone always has to be the trailblazer. If Narnia is made before Rings, we're sitting here talking about how Fellowship blew past the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's record.
David Mumpower: Fair enough, but Potter pre-dates Lord of the Rings.
The holiday season should be very good to Aslan.
Kim Hollis: Where do you think Narnia goes from here?
Reagen Sulewski: I think it's got a terrific shot at $300 million. There doesn't seem to be quite the level of rapturous support, although I could be splitting hairs.
David Mumpower: There is a lot involved in that seemingly simple question. Box office behavior has changed so dramatically that it's unlikely to have the run-forever holding power of the Lord of the Rings films. Even a 2003 release is woefully outdated from a comparison standpoint. Two years ago, $300 million would have been a slam dunk. I think it's still got a shot at that, but it's not guaranteed. $250 million seems like a certainty.
Joel Corcoran: There is enough material in the series of books for another two or three films, maybe even four or five, depending on the amount of public support and the extent of the fan base.
Reagen Sulewski: I'd be surprised if they got all seven books made. A couple of them strike me as not particularly translatable.
David Mumpower: Seven books also strikes me as ambitious. Unless we're talking about Harry Potter, James Bond, Star Wars or cheap horror, that's too many films to develop. I think we get at least two more, but I'm not ready to forecast more than that as of yet.
Kim Hollis: Combining thoughts on comments above, I agree that there are a couple of books that pose some...difficulty (though I suppose they could be re-written some to be more 21st century-friendly). It's a definite that we get at least two more films out of the series, I would think. And as far as box office, it's got strong word-of-mouth and a December audience that is exactly what the studio would want.
Reagen Sulewski: It comes down to whether the box office can support two major hits this season, in Narnia and Kong (which seems to be peaking nicely). History says it can, and they don't appear to be poaching each other's audience any more any two other big hits would.
Who wins, the lion or the ape?
Kim Hollis: Which leads to my next question. Is Kong going to surpass The Chronicles of Narnia on opening weekend, and which one do you think wins final box office?
Reagen Sulewski: I think Kong wins the opening weekend battle. The final total is much more difficult to project, but with rumblings of a Best Picture nomination (!) I have to give it the edge there too.
David Mumpower: Popular opinion says that King Kong is not only going to win out of these two films but that it will be at worst the #2 film of the year. There are even semi-coherent wire stories indicating it could pass Titanic. Having said all that, I'm in the minority opinion here. I take Narnia. I think the religious symbolism makes it the perfect Christmas holiday release.
Kim Hollis: I think Narnia gets opening weekend by a hair (Kong is just too long) but the 200 ton gorilla is going to win the overall box office battle, probably for the year, and possibly placing in the top five historically.
Joel Corcoran: Kong wins the opening weekend battle, but I think Narnia has more staying power over the long run. The storyline and symbolism of Narnia gives it longer legs. I think many more people will go back to see Narnia two or three times (or more) because they'll see a different aspect of the story, a different take. I don't see such repeat audiences for Kong.
Kim Hollis: The way the buzz is roaring and the way people are loving Kong after screenings, I'm really not so sure about that, Joel. With that said, I could see myself going to Narnia again.
David Mumpower: The buzz on Kong is about as deafening as anything I can recall since Episode One came out, that's for sure.
Joel Corcoran: Oh, I plan on seeing Kong a two or three times, too - just because everything indicates it's a fun ride. But speaking generally, my gut instinct is that Narnia will have more repeat viewers than Kong over the long term.
David Mumpower: I'm certain the point we all agree upon is that these are two of the biggest four films of the year, and it seems a bit silly that they have been released in such close proximity.
Kim Hollis: Within five days of each other is absolutely crazy.