'Compass' off course at $26 mil

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Related story: 'Compass' more golden o'seas

UPDATED 3:51 p.m. PT Dec. 9, 2007

New Line's family adventure "The Golden Compass" opened considerably south of expectations this weekend with $26.1 million in domestic boxoffice.

The limp bow by the pricey, effects-laden film puts added pressure on international execs, as the mini-major seeks to salvage profitability -- as well as its quest for a new film franchise -- with outsized foreign grosses. Based on a British book series aimed at teens, "Compass" has charted a simultaneous overseas launch since Wednesday with $55 million in foreign grosses.

Disney's "Enchanted" and Sony Screen Gems' "This Christmas" finished second and third on the weekend, with $10.7 million and $5 million, respectively, in each film's third session. Family musical "Enchanted" extended its cumulative boxoffice to $83.9 million, while the cume on the urban-skewing seasonal drama "Christmas" reached $42.8 million.

Warner Bros.' seasonal comedy "Fred Claus" also continued a leggy run, boasting a tiny 15% drop in its fifth frame that produced $4.7 million in fourth place and a $65.6 million cume. Last weekend's sole wide opener, MGM/Weinstein Co.'s "Awake," dropped 43% from opening grosses to ring up $3.3 million in ninth place and a $10.7 million cume.

In an important limited bow, Universal/Working Title's 1930s drama "Atonement" grossed $816,883 from 32 theaters, or an impressive $25,528 per venue. The Keira Knightley-James McAvoy starrer is set to add about 100 engagements Friday with Universal's Focus Features handling U.S. venues and Alliance those in Canada.

"The average is an encouraging result, as it's one of the highest you will find historically for this number of theaters," Focus distribution president Jack Foley said.

Fox Searchlight saw an auspicious first weekend with its comedy "Juno," grossing $420,113 from four theaters in L.A. and three in New York, or an eye-popping $60,016 per venue. The performance outpaced limited bows even for some of Searchlight's most successful previous releases, such as last year's "Little Miss Sunshine" and 2004's "Sideways," as "Juno's" cume reached $531,399 following a Wednesday bow.

Also this weekend, IDP unspooled Guy Ritchie's "Revolver" with 18 engagements to gross $41,671, or a thin $2,315 per playdate.

The Weinstein Co. opened the John Cusack starrer "Grace Is Gone" in four locations and grossed $14,000, or an acceptable $3,500 per site.

ThinkFilm bowed Paul Schrader's "The Walker" in two New York venues and one in L.A. to gross $16,577, representing a sturdy $5,526 per site.

And Freestyle's comedy "Dirty Laundry" debuted on single screens in New York and L.A. to gross $15,390, or an encouraging $7,695 per venue.



Miramax's Coen brothers feature "No Country for Old Men" added 329 theaters for a total of 1,324 and grossed $4.2 million, or $3,197 per venue. That brought cume for the platforming film to $28.9 million through five weeks.

ThinkFilm's Sidney Lumet-helmed "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" added 19 runs for a total of 321 and grossed $645,010, or $2,009 per site with a $5.4 million cume.

Weinstein's Bob Dylan-inspired "I'm Not There" added 10 playdates for a total of 148 and grossed $358,000, or $2,418 per engagement with a $2.2 million cume.

And Searchlight's comedy "The Savages" added five locations for a total of nine runs in New York and L.A. to gross $146,243. That made for a notable $16,243 per venue, with a cume of $386,889.

Industrywide, the weekend was down 17% from the same frame last year with $81 million in total grosses. That's the fifth consecutive session that's notched a year-over-year downtick; 12 of the past 13 weekends have underperformed the comparable 2006 frame.

Holiday grosses are down 12% so far, but year-to-date, 2007 remains 4% ahead of the same portion of last year.

Based on the first book in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, "Compass" cost upward of $180 million to produce and totes at least $60 million in prints and advertising costs, as well. Fortunately, it's considered a likely candidate to outperform domestic grosses overseas, with the source books big in Britain and international openings going strong.

"Compass" has drawn good-to-mixed reviews, but press coverage has also spotlighted criticism by some Catholic Church organizations over quasi-religious aspects of the books. The controversy has spurred helmer Chris Weitz ("About a Boy") to stress that such elements have been toned down considerably in the movie.

The cast includes Nicole Kidman in a villainous role and Ian McKellen voicing a polar bear, with newcomer Dakota Blue Richards in the central role of a teenage heroine named Lyra.

Rated PG-13, "Compass" drew audiences that were split 50-50 between male and female patrons, with 50% of its moviegoers composed of family patrons.

"Compass" posted a 20% uptick in Saturday boxoffice because of that family following. The film grossed $8.6 million on Friday and $10.3 million on Saturday, with the distributor penciling in a $7.1 million estimate for Sunday.

New Line execs had expected "Compass" to open north of $30 million domestically.

"Obviously, it's a little bit below our estimate, but we think this movie will have good word of mouth and play throughout the holiday season," said Rolf Mittweg, New Line president and COO of worldwide distribution and marketing. "We're in it for the long haul."

The film's international grosses since Wednesday were encouraging, he added.

"It's too early to say about whether there will be any more 'Compass' movies," Mittweg said. "We have to do a respectable enough number domestically to be able to justify sequels, and I think we could get there."

Looking to next weekend, "Compass" will be going up against some tough competition over its second frame.

Warner Bros. opens its Will Smith starrer "I Am Legend," bolstered by the effects-heavy feature's availability in 3-D projection on many screens. Fox also unspools the family comedy "Alvin and the Chipmunks," while Yari Film Group will bow its romantic comedy "The Perfect Holiday."

Limited openers will include Paramount Vantage's Afghanistan drama "The Kite Runner."
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