'Narnia' bolsters box office in strong debut
Reuters - 12/11/05

'Narnia' bolsters box office in strong debut

LOS ANGELES, Dec 11 (Reuters) - "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" scored a much-needed box office hit for Walt Disney Co (DIS.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , taking in $67 million for the second-biggest debut ever in a weekend in December.

"Narnia," based on the popular children's books by C.S. Lewis, fell just below the record $72.6 million three-day opening for 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," but outpaced the first "Rings" film, "The Fellowship of the Ring," which grossed $47 million in 2001.

Deutsche Bank analyst Doug Mitchelson estimated in a Dec. 4 note to clients that "Narnia" would gross about $50 million in its opening weekend.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, said the strong "Narnia" debut helped boost ticket sales by nearly 17 percent over the same weekend one year ago.

Disney, whose studio posted a $313 million operating loss last quarter, has high hopes "Narnia" will be the first in a series of seven fantasy films based on the Lewis novels. Disney needs "Narnia" to spur a franchise like the "Harry Potter" movies to bolster it as a top provider of family fare.

The movie took in an estimated $42 million in 14 international markets, too, Disney said.

"This is one of those movies that's playing to everybody, and everybody is loving it," said Chuck Viane, Disney distribution chief. He said the film scored an "A-plus" rating in audience polls by industry researcher CinemaScore and seemed "poised to do well."
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