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Movie projector: New 'Narnia' looks solid, 'Tourist' will struggle as Christmas movie season begins

December 9, 2010 |  2:17 pm

DawnTreader It may be another two weeks until the actual holiday, but for the movies that open this weekend, it's all about lasting into Christmas.

The hope for the studios releasing "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and "The Tourist" is to ride a solid debut to strong results around Christmas, when movie theaters tend to be packed.

But the prospects for that happening are much stronger for "Dawn Treader," the third movie based on C.S. Lewis' classic "Chronicles of Narnia" book series and the first co-financed and released by 20th Century Fox, which took over the franchise from Walt Disney Studios. It should see a good but not great opening weekend of about $40 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

Sony Pictures' thriller "The Tourist," starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, is generating far less interest among potential moviegoers and should debut to a little less than $20 million, a weak start for a big budget movie with well-known stars.

The debut for "Dawn Treader" will likely come in below that of the first "Narnia" movie, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in December 2005 and its poory received, darker sequel "Prince Caspian" in May 2008. The movies opened at $65.6 milion and $55 million, respectively.

But Fox, which co-financed the $155-million budgeted "Narnia" movie with Walden Media, has more mild initial expectations for its film given the sour taste that "Caspian" left with many fans. Given that "Dawn Treader " is in 3-D and will therefore benefit from premium ticket prices, an opening less than the last two "Narnia" movies would represent a significant drop in actual attendance.

Fox picked up the "Narnia" series after Walden's former partner Disney declined to continue with it following the disappointing performance of "Caspian." Fox made "Dawn Treader" at a much lower cost than "Caspian" and attempted to return to the more family-friendly, Christian-themed roots of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

If fans like the movie, however, "Dawn Treader" could perform well through the end of the year as it will be one of only two family films aimed at young viewers along with "Yogi Bear." In that scenario, it would surpass the $142-million final domestic gross of "Caspian" and approach the $292-million take of "Wardrobe." That would make it a success for Fox and Walden, especially if it performs as well overseas as expected.

Both of the previous two "Narnia" movies grossed significantly more internationally than domestically and "Dawn Treader" should follow that trend. It debuts in most major foreign markets this weekend and should collect more than $60 million overseas, giving it a worldwide opening of more than $100 million.

Tourist "The Tourist" will likely need very strong overseas results to be profitable given its soft prospects domestically. Financed for about $100 million by producer Graham King, the film has so far generated only limited interest among adult women, though recent advertising spots have included more action in an effort to draw men.

Most reviews have been negative, which could harm the movie's prospects among adults. If those who see "The Tourist" this weekend don't like it, weak word of mouth could lead it to fade from theaters before Christmas.

Depp and Jolie are very popular internationally, however, and the film takes place in Europe, giving Sony and King hopes that foreign moviegoers will turn it into a hit. "The Tourist" opens in several overseas markets, including Great Britain, Taiwan and South Korea this weekend.

In limited release, the drama "The Fighter" starring Mark Wahlberg opens at two theaters in Boston, one in Los Angeles and one in New York City. Layoff-related drama "Company Men," starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones, debuts this weekend at one theater in Los Angeles and one in New York. An adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" starts at two theaters in Los Angeles, two in New York and one in San Francisco.

All three films are opening now in hopes of receiving attention in the upcoming awards season.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: A scene from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Credit: Phil Bray / 20th Century Fox. Bottom photo: Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in "The Tourist." Credit: Sony Pictures.

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