Weekend Box Office (December 9 - 11, 2005)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Just days ahead of a giant ape's mighty yell, a ferocious lion roared into North American theaters as Disney's big-budget epic The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe generated an explosive opening weekend at number one fueling what should become a gargantuan end-of-year box office surge. Meanwhile, adult audiences flocked to the political thriller Syriana which expanded nationwide while in limited release Brokeback Mountain and Memoirs of a Geisha debuted to eye-popping results kicking off what is sure to be another exciting awards season.

Delivering the third biggest opening of the year, Narnia attracted millions of fans grossing $65.6M, according to final studio figures, from 3,616 theaters for a sizzling $18,130 average. Only Star Wars Episode III and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire have opened stronger this year with Friday-to-Sunday bows of $108.4M and $102.3M, respectively. Based on the wildly popular book by author C.S. Lewis, the PG-rated adventure tells the fantasy tale of four British children who discover a world of mythical creatures and talking animals where they must help good battle evil.

Produced with Walden Media, Narnia carries a production cost of over $150M and hopes to become a bankable franchise for Disney that can keep the cash coming for years to come. As with Potter, there are seven books in the series so more movies could be on the way if Narnia can conquer the global box office the way it ruled in North America. This weekend, Wardrobe also debuted in 14 international markets to the tune of $42M.

Narnia's opening stands as the third best in studio history for Disney behind the $70.5M of The Incredibles and the $70.3M of Finding Nemo. Both of those hits were supplied by Pixar Animation which is ending its relationship with the Mouse House. Narnia also generated the second largest December bow ever sandwiching itself between the last two Lord of the Rings films. The Return of the King bowed to $72.6M over the Friday-to-Sunday period (and $124.1M over its five-day launch) while The Two Towers debuted to $62M over three days (and $102M over five days). Peter Jackson's PG-13 King Kong will undoubtedly boot Narnia from the top spot when it attacks theaters at midnight on Tuesday night, however strong exit polls indicate that it should still have room to breathe in the marketplace over the entire holiday season and become a megablockbuster.

Drilling into the second place position was the George Clooney-Matt Damon oil industry thriller Syriana which grossed $11.7M in its first weekend of national release. Warner Bros. expanded the top ten's only R-rated pic from nine to 1,752 theaters and averaged a solid $6,699 per site. Cume to date stands at $13.2M which includes money earned during two weeks of limited release. With Narnia and Potter playing to younger crowds, Syriana entered the marketplace as a smart alternative for adult audiences looking for something different. Reviews were very positive and Damon's announcement of his wedding, which coincidentally hit the media on the same day the film expanded nationally, helped to generate some extra publicity.

Falling one spot to third place was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which took in $10.3M in its fourth frame, off 48%, to boost its overall tally to $244.1M. After being the only 2005 release to spend three weeks in the number one spot, the latest wizard tale climbed to number 37 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters just ahead of Bruce Almighty which grossed $242.8M in 2003. With 24 days of release, Goblet is running 2% ahead of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from 2001, 14% ahead of 2002's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and 15% ahead of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Overseas, Goblet grossed an estimated $52M from 58 markets boosting its international total to $414.2M. The worldwide haul stands at a towering $658M and counting making it the second largest global blockbuster of the year behind Episode III's $848M.

Still rockin' in their fourth tour were June and Johnny Cash as Fox's biopic Walk the Line grossed $5.7M, off only 40%, pushing the cume to $77M. This weekend, the potential awards contender passed the $75.3M of last fall's Ray and is still shooting for the $100M mark. Paramount followed in fifth place with the family remake Yours, Mine & Ours which dropped 39% to $5.1M for a decent $40.8M cume.

Studio stablemate Aeon Flux suffered the worst drop in the top ten, as expected, plunging 64% from its debut to $4.6M. With only $20.2M in ten days, and its first two weekends behind it, the $60M effects-driven Charlize Theron film looks to reach only $30M. Displaying the best hold was New Line's hit comedy Just Friends which slipped only 32% to $3.8M putting the 17-day sum at $26.4M.

The costume drama Pride & Prejudice finished eighth with $2.6M, down 44%, giving Focus $26.5M to date. Keira Knighley's acclaimed period pic awaits Tuesday's Golden Globe nominations in hopes of securing enough nods to keep momentum going throughout the holidays. Worldwide, the film has grossed nearly $70M to date. Disney's Chicken Little followed with $2.3M, off 48%, bringing the cume up to $127.3M. Next weekend, the G-rated toon could lose its title as the studio's top grossing film of the year to Narnia.

Rounding out the top ten was the disappointing musical Rent which fell another 55% to $2M giving Sony $26.9M thus far. The studio has been slumping lately as only one of its eleven releases in the second half of 2005 (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) has managed to cross the $50M domestic mark.

Exploding in platform release with one of the most spectacular grosses ever seen for a limited release bow was Ang Lee's cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain which debuted in only five cinemas but grossed $547,425 for a jaw-dropping $109,485 average per theater. The Heath Ledger-Jake Gyllenhaal drama has been showered with praise by critics and is already one of the top contenders for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and other prestigious prizes. This weekend, it was selected by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association as the best picture of the year with Lee also winning the director's trophy. On Monday, the New York Film Critics Circle followed suit and bestowed its picture, director, and actor prizes on the film.

Focus Features launched Brokeback Mountain in three New York sites plus solo houses in Los Angeles and San Francisco this weekend and will expand on Friday to approximately 60 theaters nationwide. The gradual roll out is common for acclaimed arthouse films that need word-of-mouth and awards buzz to spread before convincing moviegoers in other parts of the country to open their wallets. The R-rated film can solidify its early frontrunner status if it receives major kudos from the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the National Board of Review, and the Globes which all announce their nominees or winners over the next two days giving the industry a clearer picture of the best films of 2005.

Not to be lost in Brokeback's shadow, Sony's Memoirs of a Geisha also delivered a sensational opening in limited release which far exceeded expectations. Directed by Oscar-winner Rob Marshall (Chicago), the PG-13 film grossed $682,504 from only eight theaters for a scorching average of $85,313 per location. To no surprise, adult women made up the primary audience with studio research indicating that 57% were female and 57% were under the age of 35.

Sony will expand Geisha to about 50 theaters this Friday and wider over Christmas weekend. Reviews have been mixed for the pricey $80M film which stars Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, Gong Li, and Ken Watanabe. In Japan, where the film opened on Saturday, audiences are estimated to spend $2M over two days this weekend for a solid start in what should be one of the film's most important markets.

A pair of films fell from the top ten list over the weekend. The Jennifer Aniston thriller Derailed dropped 47% to $1.2M putting the total at $34.7M. The Weinstein Company's first wide release should end its run with a decent $37-38M. Usher's In the Mix tumbled 58% to $777,213 for a weak $9.8M cume. The flop should end up with about $11M.

The top ten films grossed $113.6M which was up 15% from last year when Ocean's Twelve debuted at number one with $39.2M; and up 50% from 2003 when Something's Gotta Give opened in the top spot with $16.1M.

Compared to projections, Narnia surged well past my $45M forecast while Syriana was close to my $13M prediction.

For NEW reviews of The Chronicles of Narnia and Brokeback Mountain, visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when King Kong and The Family Stone open.

Marketplace: Shop for videos, DVDs, music, books, and posters at discounted prices using search engines

# Title Dec 9 - 11 Dec 2 - 4 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Chronicles of Narnia $ 65,556,312 3,616 1 $ 18,130 $ 65,556,312 Buena Vista
2 Syriana 11,737,143 1,752 3 6,699 13,236,572 Warner Bros.
3 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 10,265,443 19,878,136 -48.4 3,728 4 2,754 244,069,305 Warner Bros.
4 Walk the Line 5,738,176 9,532,166 -39.8 3,034 4 1,891 76,991,362 Fox
5 Yours, Mine & Ours 5,051,879 8,258,472 -38.8 3,210 3 1,574 40,819,218 Paramount
6 Aeon Flux 4,561,619 12,661,112 -64.0 2,608 2 1,749 20,218,288 Paramount
7 Just Friends 3,808,637 5,601,132 -32.0 2,464 3 1,546 26,372,794 New Line
8 Pride & Prejudice 2,579,523 4,624,412 -44.2 1,335 6 1,932 26,473,313 Focus
9 Chicken Little 2,306,627 4,406,418 -47.7 2,326 6 992 127,280,176 Buena Vista
10 Rent 2,004,157 4,441,633 -54.9 1,971 3 1,017 26,915,863 Sony
11 Derailed 1,209,510 2,300,550 -47.4 1,128 6 1,072 34,662,007 Weinstein Co.
12 The Polar Express - Imax RE 931,603 838,029 11.2 66 3 14,115 166,596,525 Warner Bros.
13 In the Mix 777,213 1,867,971 -58.4 934 3 832 9,771,248 Lions Gate
14 Memoirs of a Geisha 682,504 8 1 85,313 682,504 Sony
15 Brokeback Mountain 547,425 5 1 109,485 547,425 Focus
16 Good Night, and Good Luck 538,082 1,053,466 -48.9 512 10 1,051 21,896,616 Warner Independent
17 The Ice Harvest 504,489 1,712,528 -70.5 865 3 583 8,819,059 Focus
18 Saw II 456,273 936,788 -51.3 551 7 828 86,485,612 Lions Gate
19 Jarhead 436,475 1,115,170 -60.9 704 6 620 61,956,295 Universal
20 Get Rich or Die Tryin' 366,143 925,593 -60.4 432 5 848 30,421,116 Paramount
Top 5 $ 98,348,953 $ 55,931,018 75.8
Top 10 113,609,516 73,572,002 54.4
Top 20 120,059,233 82,872,405 44.9
Top 20 vs. 2004 120,059,233 104,279,448 15.1

Last Updated : December 12, 2005 at 8:00PM EST