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Sunday, December 9, 2007

New Line's 'Golden Compass' disappoints with $25.7m, Dec. 7-9

New Line executives have known for quite some time that their $180 million budgeted fantasy pic The Golden Compass had some significant hurdles to climb. First of all, the film's massive production costs went way over-budget due to last minute director changes and extremely demanding visual effects shots. Secondly, the film unsurprisingly caught the ire of the ultra-conservative Catholic League, which urged all Catholics to boycott the film on the grounds of its anti-Church-themed source material (Philip Pullman's trilogy "His Dark Materials"). Thirdly, despite a hefty marketing push, the studio had done little to generate significant buzz for the film, having been tracking poorly for the past few weeks.

There were also positives heading into the weekend, most notably a prime release date for its own, the fairly strong popularity of Pullman's "Dark Materials" books and the huge successes of similar big-budget fantasy books-turned-feature films Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, which have averaged $250-300 million a piece domestically. In the end the debut of The Golden Compass was neither the hit New Line was praying for, nor the flop execs had feared. Instead, the big budget fx pic debuted with a disappointing but not dreadful $25.7 million, averaging a top ten best $7,308 in 3,528 theaters. Opening below the $35-40 million projections the studio and many analysts had predicted, the PG-13 release was hurt by poor reviews (just a 43% recommendation rating from critics polled byRottentomatoes.com) and strong direct competition by way of Disney's hit Enchanted.

The debut was under the $27.5 million opening of Robert Zemeckis's violent computer-generated Beowulf, and nowhere close to the lofty openings of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. Narnia became Disney's answer to Warner's Harry Potter franchise when it debuted with $65.6 million on its way to $291.7 million domestically in 2005. The latest Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opened with $77.1 million on its way to $292 million domestically. New Line essentially bet the farm on Compass becoming their next cash cow franchise, following the critical and box office success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and when all is said and done, they may pay dearly for their gamble. The studio sold the rights for international distribution of the film, and that is likely where most of its earnings will take place. The film took in a fantastic $55 million overseas in 25 markets ($18m in the UK alone). Look for the ChrisWeitz directed pic to barely break $100 million in its domestic run, well short of its reported $180 million budget.

Disney's family hit Enchanted slipped a notch to second with $10.7 million, pushing its 19-day take to $83.9 million. At its current paceook for the PG-rated comedy to continue playing well throughout December, and finish with $120 million domestically.

This holiday's sleeper-hit This Christmas fell to third with $5 million, bringing its three week total to $42.8 million. Budgeted at just $13 million, the film should become one of the most profitable for Sony this year. Fred Claus continued to play well, falling just 15% to $4.7 million this weekend. Released by Warner Bros., the Vince Vaugn-Paul Giamatti comedy has grossed $65.6 million, and could reach $80 million domestically by the end of its run.

Rounding out the top five and clearly suffering from the Golden Compass debut was Paramount's $150 million budgeted 3d epic Beowulf, which took in $4.4 million. Its four week take now stands at a disappointing $76 million. Overseas the film has grossed $91.6 million, bringing its worldwide take to $167.6 million.

Following its Best Film award by the National Board of Review, the Coen Bros.' critically-acclaimed No Country for Old Men fell a top ten best 3.5% to $4.2 million, bringing its five week cume to $28.9 million. A front-runner for Best Film at the Academy Awards, the film should continue to play well through the next two months.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight's quirky teen comedy Juno took in an incredible $420,000 in just seven theaters in NYC and LA for a $60,016 average.

As for the box office, the top ten films finished the weekend with just $68 million, down a hefty 18% from last year's comparable frame when Mel Gibson's Apocalypto opened at No. 1 with $15 million. It was down a whopping 40% from 2005 when The Chronicles of Narnia opened with $65.6 million.

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