'Prince' is no pauper, that's for sure

'Narnia' sequel is destined for weekend throne with a take that could exceed $85 mil

Disney has nabbed one heck of a nice release slot this weekend.

For starters, last session's disappointing "Speed Racer" bow means that Disney's all-important opener "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" will see only limp competition from the rival family film. And, though the following weekend features the debut of presumed boxoffice behemoth "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," it's also the four-day Memorial Day session, and that should offer plenty of moviegoing interest for both releases.

There's already talk that the "Narnia" sequel will gross north of $300 million during its domestic run, as the first installment "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" rung up $292 million and sequels tend to do better. As for how big "Prince" will open, it likely will be measured against two precedents: the $65.6 million bow of its franchise progenitor in December 2005 and the $121.6 million debut of DreamWorks Animation's "Shrek the Third" during the comparable frame in May 2007.

Industry consensus has "Prince" opening maybe 40% higher than the original and grossing $85 million or more this weekend. Yet the year-ago "Shrek" figure is well out of reach, so the weekend boxoffice probably will underperform the comparable 2007 frame despite another lucrative session — just as with the huge opening for "Iron Man" two weeks ago.

The PG-rated "Prince" has been scoring high in prerelease surveys for must-see sentiment among all demographics and has drawn solid early reviews from critics. The second book in a 1950s children's literature series written by the theologically rooted C.S. Lewis, the sequel features a more adult central character via the title role, played by Ben Barnes ("Stardust").

"This is the quintessential general-audience film — moms and dads, families, date-pic couples, teens by themselves — this plays to everybody," Disney distribution president Chuck Viane said.

The film will play in slightly more than 3,900 theaters during its first weekend. Disney executives said they didn't feel a need to push for 4,000 playdates, are in every location they want to be and weren't handicapped by the previous 4,000-plus bow of "Iron Man" or the looming market entry of the "Indiana Jones" sequel.

Walden Media is a co-financer and equity partner on the film, which totes production costs of nearly $200 million.

Elsewhere this weekend, Warner Bros. hopes "Speed Racer" can mount a decent second-week showing. But the likelihood is its grosses will plunge with the arrival of "Prince," yielding another downbeat session for the distributor and its partner Village Roadshow.

On the other hand, Paramount and Marvel hope that repeat viewings and continued broad interest in "Iron Man" will carry the PG-13 film to another solid weekend. The May opener almost no one thought could get to $300 million suddenly is a candidate to do just that, but it will bear watching how the comic book adaptation performs this weekend and next. (partialdiff)