'Dawn Treader' Likely to Top Weekend With $35-45 Million

VIDEO: "Tourist" expected to bow with about $20 million in battle with "Tangled," "Deathly Hallows" for second or third place.

The holiday box-office season this weekend offers up its first big titles in a couple of sessions, though neither of the two wide openers is expected to deck the halls extravagantly.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the 3D family fantasy from Fox and Walden Media, looks likely to top the domestic box office with $35 million-$45 million through Sunday. And the Sony-distributed action thriller The Tourist, starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, is expected to bow with about $20 million in a battle for second or third place with holdovers Tangled and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Dawn Treader will feature almost 2,000 3D locations among roughly 3,500 total theaters. Helmed by Michael Apted, the versatile British director who helmed 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, Dawn Treader totes a negative cost of roughly $145 million.

That's down significantly from its immediate franchise predecessor thanks to an increase in the use of soundstages in lieu of location shooting for the threequel; a reduced visual effects budget from the previous sequel; and some hefty Australian tax credits. Costs on Disney's May 2008 opener The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian swelled to a whopping $225 million.

Franchise-launcher The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -- also from Disney and Walden -- bowed in December 2005 with $65.6 million, part of a $291.7 million domestic run and $745 million global haul. Caspian debuted with $55 million and rung up a disappointing $141.6 million in domestic box office, prompting Disney to abandon the franchise and allow Walden to waltz Dawn Treader over to Fox.

The studio immediately penciled in a return to the holiday season for the latest Narnia installment. That should make for a leggy run, if not an outsized bow, Fox distribution topper Bruce Snyder said.

"It cost less and is positioned back in the Christmas holidays where it belongs, so we should have a good multiple over its entire run," Snyder said. "But I don't expect it to open where the last ones did with so much else in the marketplace right now."

The Tourist, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), was produced for roughly $100 million, with all costs born by Graham King's GK Films and Sony in line only for a distribution fee. Movie-date couples and fans of its marquee topliners form the core target constituencies, with the PG-13 pic likely to skew significantly older than the PG-rated Dawn Treader.

Limited openers this weekend include Paramount's The Fighter, which unspools with four playdates in three markets.

Among notable expansions, Fox Searchlight's Natalie Portman starrer Black Swan adds 72 playdates for a total of 90 engagements in its sophomore session, with the suspense thriller toting $1.5 million in cumulative box office to date.

On an industrywide basis, the weekend will be compared with a mere $97 million session last year whose top opening saw Warner Bros.' Invictus unspool with $8.6 million.

Year to date, box office is pacing just 1.9% ahead of the same portion of last year at $9.79 billion. The industry has marked three consecutive year-over-year weekend downticks at the start of year-ending holiday box-office season.