Basking in ‘Witch’ riches

'Narnia' could end up Disney's biggest grossing live-action pic

By opening a $13 million gap overseas over “King Kong,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” has established its claim as the year’s biggest box office surprise.

Not only has it outdistanced the field, but “Narnia” could emerge as the biggest grossing live-action film in Disney history.

Worldwide, pic has grosses $530 million — nearly $70 million ahead of “King Kong.”

And there’s plenty of gas still in the tank for co-financers Disney and Walden Media amid impressive holdover business on both the domestic and foreign fronts. If “Narnia” takes in another $132 million worldwide, it would match the B.O. of “The Sixth Sense,” currently Disney’s top live-action grosser.

The “Narnia” deal calls for Disney and Walden to split the profits 50-50, with Disney assuming all costs for prints and advertising.

For Walden, the success of “Narnia” has elevated the prominence of Philip Anschutz’s move into film financing and production of inspirational films aimed at family audiences. The shingle, previously best known for stumbling with “Around the World in 80 Days,” also financed “Holes” and “Because of Winn-Dixie.” And it’s backing “Hoot” and “How to Eat Fried Worms” at New Line and “Charlotte’s Web” at Paramount.

Walden CEO Cary Granat told Daily Variety that the “Narnia” story of a fractured family coming together has resonated in every market.

“The worldwide audience has genuinely connected with the story’s emotions from Indonesia to Israel,” he added. “And in markets where the ‘Narnia’ stories aren’t well known, Disney’s done a brilliant job of marketing.”

The success of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the first published in the C.S. Lewis series but second chronologically, is spurring plans for a sequel based on the next title, “Prince Caspian.” Granat said work on a script is under way, with plans to tap a director within a few weeks.

“We’re planning on starting production by the fourth quarter of next year,” Granat said.

The past weekend brought the gap between “Narnia” and “King Kong” into sharp relief. In its fifth weekend, “Narnia” grossed $15.3 million domestically to beat the fourth weekend of “Kong” by $3 million and pull the Stateside cume to nearly $248 million — $55 million ahead of “Kong.”

On the international side, the gap between the tentpoles is growing. Sunday estimates had placed the two pics just $5 million apart, with BVI’s “Narnia” at $277 million, enabling the fantasy actioner to surpass UIP’s “Kong” in foreign grosses for the first time since “Kong” opened.

But that gap turned out to be more than $13 million when Monday’s actual weekend numbers boosted “Narnia” to $282 million while “Kong” fell to $268.6 million.

Despite opening later than “Kong” in all but 13 markets, “Narnia” has demonstrated significantly higher appeal in foreign markets — especially among family demos — than “Kong.” Much of the weekend improvement for “Narnia,” which wound up the frame with $35.5 million, came from a pair of unexpectedly strong performances in Latin America and notable holdover numbers from midsize European markets.

During the weekend, “Narnia” set BVI launch records in Colombia with $1.3 million at 100 playdates and in Chile with $750,000 at 57, representing the fifth and sixth largest openings, respectively, in those markets. It also launched strongly Sunday in the Philippines with $280,000 at 98, third-best opening day after the “Spider-Man” pics.

BVI also saw impressive gains in third-frame “Narnia” grosses of 44% in Denmark, 32% in Holland, 31% in Sweden, 11% in Belgium and 3% in Italy. Norway edged down a mere 4%.

In Sweden, “Narnia” has cumed $8.2 million and should become the second-highest BVI grosser of all time midweek, trailing only “The Lion King.”

BVI execs have already forecast that “Narnia,” which still hasn’t opened in Japan or China, will go past “Armageddon” at $355 million in offshore box office to become the top live-action Disney film in foreign grosses by the end of its run.

“King Kong” wound up the weekend with $21.4 million, dipping 25% from its third frame. The big gorilla topped $2 million in only one foreign market — the U.K., where its cume has hit $45.3 million, trailing “Narnia” by $22 million.

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