'Narnia' wins weekend with strong start

Disney sequel “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” grossed an estimated $56 million from 3,929 theaters to easily win the weekend at the domestic box office in a strong, but not spectacular, start.

The adventure-fantasy, reteaming director Andrew Adamson with the cast of the first film, wasn’t able to match the $65.5 million domestic opening of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in early December 2005.

Overseas, “Prince Caspian” grossed $20.7 million as it rolled out in its first 12 territories, besting the opening performance of the first film.

Family films can sometimes start out slow at the domestic B.O. but have playability. That’s just what Disney’s hoping for “Caspian,” which drew an A CinemaScore and played heavily to families, even with Steven Spielberg’s PG-13 “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” opening Thursday. (“Crystal Skull” preemed at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday.)

In its second weekend, Warner Bros.’ “Speed Racer,” a disappointment, declined a steep 59% in its second frame to an estimated $7.6 million from 3,606 runs. Cume is $29.8 million in its first 10 days, according to Rentrak.

Paramount’s “Iron Man” continued to wow, becoming the first film of the year to cross the $200 million mark at the domestic box office and coming in No. 2 for the frame. Film declined just 39% in its third sesh to an estimated $31.2 million from 4,154. Cume is $222.5 million.

Twentieth Century Fox’s Cameron Diaz-Ashton Kutcher “What Happens in Vegas” is proving a surprisingly strong performer, declining only 31% in its second frame to come in No. 3. Comedy grossed an estimated $13.8 million from 3,255; cume is $40.3 million.

On the specialty side, Overture’s “The Visitor” made the top 10 list for the first time, grossing an estimated $687,000 from 224 runs for a cume of $3.4 million in its sixth frame. It’s the first specialty film of the spring and summer to scale the upper reaches of the chart.

Miramax’s “Reprise” scored a boffo per-screen average of $15,700 as it opened to an estimated $47,100 from three runs.

Overall, box office revenues for the weekend were down a sizable 27% from a year ago, when “Shrek the Third” led in its opening with a $121.6 million gross. All along, studios have said it could be impossible to replicate the box office boom seen last May, when “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” bowed along with “Shrek the Third.”

‘Narnia’ mania

There are several differences between the two “Narnia” films. The first opened in early December in 2005, and it was based on the most well-known book in C.S. Lewis’ acclaimed children’s book series. Meanwhile, “Prince Caspian” has more action and a darker feel.

“This is a marathon for us, not a sprint. This is about play time,” Disney prexy of domestic distribution Chuck Viane said. “The true advantage is that we are going to have better play time, with the Memorial Day and kids beginning to get out of school for the summer, even with ‘Indiana Jones.’ We’ll have strong weekday numbers.”

“Prince Caspian” played fairly evenly to all ages, with 54% of the aud coming as families. Pic played evenly among males and females.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” cumed $291.7 million domestically and $453 million internationally. Disney is holding back on much of “Prince Caspian’s” international rollout until later this month and in June.

Disney wouldn’t confirm the production budget for “Prince Caspian,” although it’s believed to be well north of $100 million, as was “Speed Racer’s.”

Warner exec VP of distribution Jeff Goldstein said the studio was heartened by the fact that “Speed Racer,” directed by the Wachowski Brothers and produced by Joel Silver, jumped 72% percent from Friday to Saturday, the highest uptick of any film in the top 10 box office chart. He said it indicates the film is showing playability.

The previous weekend, Warners had “Speed Racer” beating “What Happens in Vegas.” Final numbers, however, showed “Vegas” ahead (“Iron Man” dominated both films.)

“Vegas” was the fourth female-skewing comedy to open in a row after two Universal pics, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “Baby Mama,” and Sony’s “Made of Honor.” Of the four, “Vegas” showed the lowest second-weekend drop.

“We are the comedy nonfamily choice in the marketplace,” Fox senior VP of distribution Chris Aronson said.

Paramount prexy of worldwide distribution and marketing Rob Moore likewise credited the star of “Iron Man” — Robert Downey Jr. — for much of the success of the summer’s out-of-the-gate tentpole blockbuster.

“ ’Iron Man’ has given Robert Downey Jr. an amazing platform to combine his charm and sense of humor with a fantastic adventure.,” Moore said.

Moore, like other Par brass, was in Cannes for Sunday’s “Indiana Jones” premiere. Tracking is, of course, very strong for the pic, which returns the adventure-action franchise to the screen after an 18-year hiatus.

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