Christmas is arriving early this year for Buena Vista as “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe” worked its magic on audiences in its debut and warmed up to a dazzling estimate of $67.1 million. Internationally, “Narnia” opened this weekend in 14 markets and generated an estimated $41.7 million, bringing the worldwide cume to a radiant $108.8 million.
The well-reviewed fantasy-adventure film, helmed by Andrew Adamson and based on the first book from the beloved series by author C.S. Lewis, generated the biggest debut ever for the comparable weekend and the second-highest December opening of all time. Only New Line Cinema’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” the final film in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and based on the series written by Lewis’ friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, opened higher ($72.6 million).
The other two films in the “Lord of the Rings” series, “The Two Towers” and “The Fellowship of the Ring,” are the third-and fourth-biggest debuts in December, with $62 million and $47.2 million, respectively.
Walden Media and Walt Disney Pictures co-produced the PG-rated “Narnia,” which cost about $150 million.
Successful expansionWarner Bros. Pictures’ “Syriana” expanded from five theaters a week ago to 1,752 this weekend and placed second at the boxoffice with an estimate of a moderate $12 million. The George Clooney-Matt Damon starrer, directed by Stephen Gaghan, is the only R-rated picture in the top 10 this weekend. The political thriller has pumped an estimated $13.5 million to date.
Warners’ “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” meanwhile, still was bringing heat to the marketplace, casting an estimated $10.3 million into the boxoffice cauldron to take the third spot. The cume advanced to a stellar $244.1 million as “Goblet” surpassed Paramount Pictures’ “War of the Worlds” to become the second-highest-grossing film released this year. The worldwide total for “Goblet” is now a staggering $658 million.
20th Century Fox’s critically acclaimed “Walk the Line” was in the fourth slot with an estimated $5.8 million. The well-received Johnny Cash biopic has tuned in to an estimated $77 million so far, surpassing the domestic total for Universal’s “Ray” ($75.3 million), another biopic about an American musical legend.
The impressive debut of “Narnia” helped vault the total weekend boxoffice for all films to a record high. The combined estimated boxoffice for the top 12 films was $117.9 million, up a stout 17 percent from the same frame a year ago. The Hollywood Reporter projects the total for all films this weekend to be in the low- to mid-$120 million range, up considerably from last year’s $106.6 million, which had been the all-time high.
Potential contendersTwo high-profile and likely future wide-release films opened this weekend in limited release, with each generating sensational per-theater averages. The true test, however, will be how the numbers hold up as the theater count rises.
Sony’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” opened in eight locations and generated an estimated $674,000. The Rob Marshall-directed drama, adapted from the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden, averaged a memorable $84,250 per theater. The PG-13 film, starring Chinese superstar Ziyi Zhang, will move into the top 15 markets Friday and reach 1,000-plus runs Dec. 23.
Focus Features’ “Brokeback Mountain” debuted in five theaters and grossed an estimated $544,549. Helmed by Ang Lee, the drama about a love affair between two ranch hands in Wyoming averaged an impressive $108,910 per theater. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal star in the well-reviewed drama, which will be expanding in the coming weeks.
As for “Narnia,” the fantasy feature received a 9 percent bump from Friday to Saturday, which bodes well for its prospects.
The only film in the top 12 whose boxoffice gross was up from the week before was the reissue of Warner Bros.’ animated “The Polar Express,” which played in 66 Imax theaters and took in an estimated $946,355, up 12 percent from the previous weekend. The G-rated “Express” averaged $14,339 per theater and has collected $3.8 million to date, moving its total domestic cume to $166.6 million.
While not in the per-theater-average league of “Geisha” or “Brokeback,” the Weinstein Co.’s “Mrs. Henderson Presents” debuted in six locales and bowed with an estimated $58,218. The drama, starring Judi Dench and helmed by Stephen Frears, averaged $9,703 per theater and enters the top 20 markets on Christmas Day. A spokesperson for the distributor noted that “Henderson” scored strongly in exits and that Saturday’s grosses doubled Friday’s.
The sophomore frame of ThinkFilm’s “The Boys of Baraka” pulled in an estimated $10,860 from one locale, moving the total for the documentary to $30,590.
The Weinstein Co.’s “Transamerica” was in two houses, grossing an estimated $17,548. The drama averaged $8,774 per theater and has taken in about $81,627 so far.
The national boxoffice for the week ending Dec. 8 was down 8 percent from the comparable seven-day period last year ($113.1 million vs. $123.4 million), while the year-to-date shortfall holds steady at 6 percent ($8.16 billion vs. $8.67 billion). Estimated admissions are off nearly 9 percent from last year at this time.
With the entry of “Narnia” and “Kong” into the marketplace, boxoffice and admissions most likely will top the levels garnered last year during the comparable period, and the year-to-date deficits should begin to decline.