'Prince Caspian' misses expectations

Opens lower than the first 'Narnia' film

Disney's family-fantasy sequel "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" bowed less than royally this weekend, as the Walden Media co-production rode to an estimated $56.6 million to capture the domestic boxoffice flag yet underperformed pre-release expectations considerably.

Paramount's "Iron Man," the No. 1 film over the previous two weekends, finished second in the latest session with $31.2 million and a $222.5 million cume. Fox's romantic comedy "What Happens in Vegas" grossed $13.9 million over its third outing to grab third place and a $40.3 million cume.

Warner Bros.' family action film "Speed Racer" skidded 59% from the disappointing opening grosses of the previous frame to ring up $7.6 million in fourth place. Studio execs were encouraged by the film's sizable bump in grosses from Friday to Saturday during the latest session, but the struggling release's cume sits at just $29.8 million through its first 10 days.

Universal's female-skewing comedy "Baby Mama" delivered $4.6 million over its fourth frame to produce a $47.3 million cume. Sony's romantic comedy "Made of Honor" made $4.5 million in its third weekend to finish sixth and shape a $33.7 million cume.

On an industrywide basis, the boxoffice continues to struggle in comparison with year-ago totals, according to Nielsen EDI.

The weekend's $134 million in collective grosses was off 26% from the same frame a year ago, while the summer is tracking 9% behind summer 2007. Year-to-date, 2008 is off 3% from the same portion of last year at $3.03 billion.

In a limited bow, Miramax uspooled its Norwegian drama "Reprise" in two New York locations and one in Los Angeles to gross $45,473, or an encouraging $15,157 per site.

Elsewhere in the specialty market, Overture's drama "The Visitor" popped in on seven additional theaters for a total of 224 and grossed $687,000, or an acceptable $3,067 per venue, with a $3.4 million cume. The performance landed "Visitor" in 10th place on the weekend.

Paramount Vantage's British comedy "Son of Rambow" added 55 locations for a total of 91 and grossed $222,629, representing a so-so $2,446 per site. "Rambow," which now totes a cume of $509,474, is set to expand to at least 110 venues Friday.

David Mamet's martial arts drama "Redbelt" from Sony Pictures Classics began shedding screens a week after its wide expansion yielded disappointing results. "Redbelt" tightened to 932 theaters -- 447 fewer than the previous frame -- and grossed $401,065, or a thin $430 per venue, as its cume hit $2 million.

The French-language drama "Roman de gare" from IDP and Samuel Goldwyn added nine playdates for a total of 24 and grossed $105,600, or a sturdy $4,400 per engagement, with a cume of $465,122.

Roadside Attractions' period fantasy "The Fall" added two theaters for a total of 11 and grossed $62,832, or a sturdy $5,712 per venue, with a cume of $179,563. The distributor's drama "Before the Rains" expanded to 28 locations from a previous eight and grossed $105,308, or an acceptable $3,761 per site, with a cume of $174,015.

ThinkFilm's Tim Robbins starrer "Noise" grossed $4,360 from single screens in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, a faint $2,180 per venue. Its cume stands at $11,072 after a previous one-week run on a pair of New York screens.

"Prince Caspian" -- whose roughly $200 million in production costs was shared by Disney and Walden -- drew audiences reflecting a broad range of demos yet still underperformed the opening grosses of franchise original "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." The first "Narnia" pic opened with $65.6 million in December 2005, and many had expected the sequel to debut with $80 million or more amid positive reviews and broad pre-release viewing interest.

"We're off to a good start -- not great, but good," Disney distribution president Chuck Viane said. "I don't think it's written anywhere that movies open and outperform the originals. It's not a truism."

But the Disney exec added that he does still hope the sequel can match the $292 million domestic haul of the original by the end of its theatrical run and validate the decision to release "Prince Caspian" in May instead of again going with a holiday slot.

"The safest thing in the world is always to put the (sequel) back where (the original) opened," Viane said. "But I believe this picture plays so broadly that you want the biggest audience you can have."

A second sequel -- "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" -- is scheduled for release in May 2010.

Positive patron comments about "Prince Caspian" in exit surveys are encouraging, Viane said, as the film tries to play catch-up on comparisons with the franchise original over coming frames. Outsized international grosses also could help, a definite possibility based on auspicious foreign coin from several territories where the film bowed day-and-date with the domestic opening.

Looking to the looming four-day Memorial Day frame, Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" will be the 800-pound gorilla stomping into the summer marketplace. Event Films also is set to unspool the farcical black comedy "Postal," from helmer Uwe Boll, but to considerably less fanfare.

There is hope that enough moviegoers will head to multiplexes during the holiday-bolstered period to allow even holdover films like "Prince Caspian" to post a solid session. "Skull" opens at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, and there's already talk of its ringing up more than $150 million through Monday.