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''Prince Caspian'' rules the box office

The ”Narnia” sequel may have won the weekend, but its mid-$50 mil take was a big disappointment

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The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Murray Close

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian may have won the weekend box office by a wide margin. But its actual financial performance raises an interesting question: How can a $56.6 million opening, the year’s second best, be considered a disappointment?

Let us count the ways. Above all, the fantasy sequel’s debut failed to match that of its predecessor, 2005’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which banked $65.6 mil on its first weekend. And not only could Prince Caspian not reach Narnia 1‘s premiere gross, it didn’t even come close, falling a whopping $9 mil short. Now, that’s bad: In this day and age, a would-be blockbuster sequel is designed from top to bottom to surpass the movie that came before it — especially when said forebear had a big-but-not-gigantic opening that took place out of the summer. I mean, Prince Caspian (which, mind you, was this week’s only major new release) just had to do better. Additionally, Narnia 1 grossed an impressive $291.7 mil during its entire run, a total that this film now stands a faint chance of approaching, given looming stiff competition from Indiana Jones 4 and Kung Fu Panda. And this all happened in an atmosphere where the multiplex seemed primed for a hit, in the wake of both Iron Man‘s huge debut two weeks ago and Speed Racer‘s crash last weekend.

For all these reasons and more, box office pundits predicted that Prince Caspian would open more in the $80 mil range (and I, well, I was thrown way off). What went wrong? It’s a little hard to tell at this early point. The film’s demographics were all there: It was the rare ”four quadrant” release that drew nearly equal numbers of young and old people, women and men. And the folks who did go (and don’t get me wrong, there were plenty), gave it a good A- CinemaScore review, indicating that it may still survive the crack of Indy’s whip next weekend. Then again, Prince Caspian didn’t fully catch fire for some reason — perhaps because it’s just not as big a deal as many assumed it was, perhaps because the words ”Harry” and ”Potter” aren’t in its title. Time may tell.

Moving on, Iron Man (No. 2) continued its super-strong run, grossing $31.2 mil, on a minimal 39 percent drop. That’s the eighth-best third weekend in history, and it gives Robert Downey Jr.’s Marvel movie a $222.5 mil cumulative domestic total to date (ranking it 62nd on the all-time chart).

What Happens in Vegas (No. 3) was next with $13.9 mil, on a small 31 percent decline of its own. Then came Speed Racer (No. 4) with $7.6 mil, a huge 59 percent falloff from its opening sum. And Baby Mama rounded out the top five with $4.6 mil.

Overall, the box office trailed the same frame a year ago (when Shrek the Third was a $121.6 mil behemoth) by a monstrous 27 percent. But it’s too soon to get too worried: After all, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is almost here!