By John Hamann
May 18, 2008
Box office expectations can be a tricky thing. Disney and Walden Media's The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was the lone opener and had a lot going for it heading into its opening frame. Speed Racer had flopped, and Iron Man was getting dusty. Caspian was all alone on the schedule, a sequel to an almost $300 million domestic earner, and earned glowing reviews. Because of this, some analysts thought $100 million was in play for the weekend, some were more conservative with $85 million estimates, and BOP's Reagen Sulewski was pretty much alone with a $68 million estimate. In the end, Prince Caspian opens to less than $60 million, and raises the famous question, what makes a disappointment at the box office?
Prince Caspian toyed with the line between successful blockbuster and opening weekend disappointment before it fell into the latter category. Its weekend gross came in at $56.6 million from 3,929 venues. Given the already stated tracking expectations north of $80 million, the 35% difference in actual gross versus expected gross has to break the hearts of the folks at Disney, Walden Media and anyone else involved in the franchise. A second consecutive where the biggest opener fails to match predicted tracking also may be an indicator of what's to come this summer.
The key point here is that the opening weekend figure is lower than the original, as The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe opened to $65.5 million in December of 2005. Most sequels, and especially one like the Narnia films, should add to their totals with the second film. For example, Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring opened to $47.2 million, The Two Towers followed that with an opening of $62 million, and Return of the King debuted with $72.6 million. Star Wars follows that trend as well: The Phantom Menace opened to $64.8 million, Attack of the Clones debuted with $80 million, and Revenge of the Sith started with $108 million. On the other hand, Harry Potter started with $90 million for Sorcerer's Stone before moving to $88 million with the second film, Chamber of Secrets.
My biggest problem with this opening is that Prince Caspian had everything going for it - at least in theory. Reviews were not as good as they were for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (75% fresh) but did come in at a better than average 69% fresh, with 73 reviewers out of a possible 106 giving the movie a good grade. Marketing was fair but not outstanding, as Disney and Walden seemed to be letting the first film do a lot of the marketing work. One of the problems that Prince Caspian may have run into is that its target audience is getting assailed by this kind of kid lit/magic movie, and results are starting to dwindle. An example is The Spiderwick Chronicles, a book-based fantasy movie that was supposed to launch a franchise. Instead, it opened to a small $19 million, and swung under its $92.5 million budget with a final domestic gross of $71.2 million. The Golden Compass, supposedly a sure-fire winner, opened to only $20 million and finished with a domestic take of only $70 million, despite a $200 million budget. Another example is Walden Media's flop The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. This one opened to just $4 million and finished with less than $10 million, proving that not everyone is Frodo or Harry Potter.