It felt a lot more like the beginning of the holiday season at the overseas box office than at home this weekend.
Two big-budget movies with aspirations of ticket sales to match, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader" and "The Tourist," posted weak estimated openings in the U.S. and Canada of $24.5 million and $17 million, respectively.
But the 3-D family film "Dawn Treader" generated strong receipts in a number of foreign countries, including Russia, Mexico and France, demonstrating that 20th Century Fox's attempt to revive the "Narnia" series could still work on a worldwide basis. International grosses were $67 million from 56 markets for the weekend and now total $81 million, including earlier openings in a few countries.
The Johnny Depp- Angelina Jolie action drama "The Tourist" opened in a few foreign countries, including Great Britain, South Korea and Taiwan, to results that were better than those in the U.S. but far from great, despite the global appeal of its stars and the fact that it was shot on location in Europe. The movie collected $8 million from its 15 international markets.
Mid-December is not usually a prosperous time at the domestic box office, but studios hope for solid openings followed by strong returns around Christmas, when theaters are typically packed. But soft openings for the two new movies have all but negated their chances of turning into hits on the home front.
Indeed, the domestic opening of "Dawn Treader" was less than half that of either of the previous two "Narnia" movies, 2005's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" and 2008's "Prince Caspian," even though the new movie played in 3-D and benefited from higher ticket prices.
Fox picked up the "Narnia" series after Disney dropped it after "Caspian." Together with co-financier Walden Media, it produced and marketed the $155-million-budgeted "Dawn Treader," keeping its tone and focus in line with "Wardrobe" in hopes of recapturing at least some of that original movie's success, particularly with Christian audiences.
"We had to show audiences that we were going back to the spirit of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' while at the same time showing it was an original film," said Paul Hanneman, Fox co-president of international distribution.
Exit polls for "Dawn Treader" were good, with U.S. audiences giving it an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Solid word of mouth could drive it to a decent domestic gross of between $100 million and $150 million.
"Clearly, our best days are ahead of us with Christmas and the school holidays," said Fox Executive Vice President of Domestic Distribution Chris Aronson.
But most eyes at Fox and Walden will be overseas, where the studios now have realistic hopes of receipts of more than $300 million with major markets such as Germany, Japan and China left to launch. A worldwide gross similar to the $419 million achieved by "Prince Caspian" would make for a success, since "Dawn Treader" cost significantly less to make.
"The Tourist," meanwhile, marked the worst opening for Depp in a movie playing nationwide at more than 2,000 theaters since 2001's "From Hell" and for Jolie since 2006's "The Good Shepherd." Audiences appeared not to have been drawn by ads for the sophisticated but action-light drama and then been turned off by overwhelmingly negative reviews.
The primarily adult female audience that went gave it a decent CinemaScore of B, leaving it unclear whether word of mouth will be strong enough to sustain the movie through the holidays or if it will end up a major flop on the domestic front.
Either way, as producer Graham King's GK Films spent about $100 million to make "The Tourist," it will have a tough time turning a profit unless the movie performs remarkably well in foreign markets. "The Tourist" is being distributed and marketed in most countries, including the U.S., by Sony Pictures.