The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Will 'Narnia: Dawn Treader' ever overcome the curse of 'Prince Caspian'?

December 13, 2010 | 12:30 pm

Narnia There is no more herculean task in the movie business than reviving a franchise once audience interest has been soured by a bad installment.

That's what 20th Century Fox tried to pull off this weekend with the release of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," which attempted to breathe new life into a series that had been derailed by its second installment, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian." That film performed so badly in the U.S. that Disney, which had released the first two films in the series, washed its hands of the once-promising franchise.

The new film opened Friday to lukewarm reviews and a very mediocre U.S. box office, making $24.5 million, less than half of what the failed second film, "Prince Caspian," made when it opened in May 2008. But Fox executives are still sounding as optimistic as ever, insisting that the film's best days are ahead of it, predicting that it will pick up steam over the holidays, in addition to making loads of money overseas. Maybe so, but there is considerable cause for skepticism.

The biggest reason, the film's weak U.S. opening aside, is the film's performance on CinemaScore, which grades the reaction of rank 'n file moviegoers on opening night. The new "Narnia" film earned an A-minus score, which is usually a good sign for a film's continuing performance at the box office. But it turns out that "Prince Caspian" also earned an A-minus from moviegoers when it opened. Yet it still dropped off 58% in its second weekend at the box office. "Dawn Treader" cost less to make than "Prince Caspian," but it still had a budget of $155 million, meaning it will have to hold up a lot better than its predecessor if it expects to turn a profit.   

-- by Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Georgie Henley, left, and Aslan the Lion in a scene from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." Credit: Phil Bray/Associated Press/20th Century Fox