Weekend Wrap-Up for December 7-9, 2007

Golden Compass Lays Golden Egg at the Box Office

By John Hamann

December 9, 2007

This compass seems to have sent them in the wrong direction.

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After what has been a long, slow November, the box office needed a blockbuster this weekend in The Golden Compass, based on the popular (and suddenly controversial!) children's book. With only a few weekends until Christmas, studios and exhibitors had to be getting a little nervous, as the Thanksgiving frame produced only one big winner, Enchanted, and that had to face off with Golden Compass, both chasing the same demographic. The Golden Compass was sure to win this weekend, but would Enchanted hold it back?

Obviously, the number one film of the weekend is The Golden Compass. The question is how big was the opening would be. Surprisingly, the Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig affair disappointed, opening to only $26.1 million from 3,528 venues. It had a lukewarm venue average of $7,405. This could be disastrous for movie-going holiday season. The Golden Compass was to be the big kid's flick of the season, and now it may get out-grossed by Alvin and the Chipmunks. Seriously, though, next weekend's I Am Legend and Compass were to be the two blockbusters to beat this Christmas, and now we have a Golden Compass opening not that much unlike last year`s Eragon ($23.2 million opening, $75 million finish). New Line spent $180 million on Compass (plus another $60 million to market it), and it will be extremely lucky to earn $150 million domestically - even through the lucrative holiday season.

For New Line, this is a tough time for a purported new franchise to come out with a stumble. This year the studio has $100 million films with Rush Hour 3 and Hairspray, but Rush Hour 3 cost New Line $180 million to make, and only earned $140 million domestically, well off expectations. New Line's third biggest film for 2007 so far was Fracture, which only earned $39 million. 2006 was even worse for the studio, as their biggest picture of the year was Final Destination 3, with a domestic total of only $54 million. New Line was looking for an opening between $30 and $40 million according to The Hollywood Reporter, and failed to match even those lowball estimates. New Line's president, Rolf Mittweig, said in the THR story that "there hasn't been a movie carried by a teenage heroine since The Wizard of Oz." Hannah Montana needs a live action movie.


So what happened to the Golden Compass? Did the religious controversy over the book keep the kids away? I doubt it, but I would say that the ad campaign for The Golden Compass made the film look quite violent, as these polar bears look militant compared to the type that drinks Coke. There was little "warm and fuzzy" on display here, and Kidman looked decidedly more adult than what this film was aimed at. Reviews were also unkind. At RottenTomatoes, The Golden Compass won only 59 positive reviews out of a possible 138, leaving it with a not so fresh rating of 43%. I am of the opinion that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe wasn't all that, and it still earned a 76% fresh rating at RT.

This is more bad news for Golden Compass star, Nicole Kidman. Kidman hasn't appeared in a non-animated $100 million earner since Batman Forever (cringe) in 1995. That one opened to $52 million and managed to earn $184 million at the domestic box office. The last picture for both Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig was the sci-fi flop The Invasion, which opened to only $6 million and finished with only $15 million in domestic ticket sales, despite costing Warner Bros. $80 million to make. Kidman's previous film to that was Happy Feet, which was huge, but her last live action flick, Bewitched, was another flop despite also starring Will Ferrell. That one also cost $80 million and made Sony only $60 million at the North American box office. Other misses of late for Kidman have included Birth ($1.7 million opening, $5 million finish), and The Stepford Wives ($100 million production budget, $21 million opening, $59 million finish). Other than the animated Happy Feet, her only moderate success has come from The Interpreter with Sean Penn, which opened to $23 million and finished with $78 million (but still cost Universal $80 million to produce). Kidman has two interesting projects coming up - Australia, for director Baz Luhrmann, followed by The Reader for The Hours director Stephen Daldry.

To sum up, The Golden Compass has really laid a golden egg for the studio and its stars. This was not the right project for director and scripter Chris Weitz, whose best credits include About a Boy and American Pie. Nicole Kidman was a poor choice, and the budget suffered from over bloat. To not enter even the $30 millions as an opening makes The Golden Compass a disappointment over opening weekend, and if it doesn't hold well next weekend, could make for a rather large flop for the folks at New Line.

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