The Christmas movie season got off to a chilly start, with two big-studio movies fizzling at this weekend's domestic box office.
Fox's 3D "Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader" grossed $24.5 million at 3,555 locations (2,000 of those in 3D), according to studio estimates. The Michael Apted-directed family film, budgeted at around $145 million, had been projected by tracking services to take in $35 million-$45 million this weekend.
"The Tourist," meanwhile, grossed an estimated $17 million. Projections had the $100 million spy thriller starring Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp doing at least $20 million — a ho-hum benchmark to begin with.
Both Sony and Fox are confident that performance abroad will render their films profitable.
After "Narnia 3" grossed $81 million in 56 international territories this weekend, Chris Aronson, Fox's executive VP of distribution, noted, "Somehow, I think the economics are going to work out on this for us."
Likewise, with the GK Films-produced "Tourist" grossing $8 million in limited foreign release, Sony worldwide distribution chief Rory Bruer said the movie "was always made for the world stage."
Sony is a distributor, handling North America and select foreign markets.
Back in the USA, however, and on a weekend in which the box office was down by about 6 percent compared to the same period last year, the only good news came from limited releases of specialty films.
The Relativity-produced boxing movie "The Fighter" — a potential awards vehicle for stars Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale — took in an impressive $320,000 playing at four theaters for an impressive $80,000-per-screen average.
Likewise, Fox Searchlight's Darren Aronofsky-directed sexual thriller "Black Swan" grossed $3.3 million while expanding from 18 theaters to 90.
And The Weinstein Company's "King's Speech" grossed $591,000 at 19 locations for a $31,000-per-screen average. The movie is set to expand to 40 locations next weekend and to about 600 theaters across the country on Christmas weekend.
Here's how the top 10 finished. Full report continues below chart:
Among other specialty-film openings, Miramax's Julie Taymor-directed Shakespeare adaptation "The Tempest," which stars Russell Brand, grossed $45,000 playing at five theaters.
Also, "Hemingway's Garden of Eden," a simultaneous VOD release being distributed by Roadside Attractions, grossed $13,000 playing at 14 houses.
But the big story at the box office this weekend remained the tough domestic sledding for "Narnia" and "The Tourist."
After the second "Narnia" movie, "Prince Caspian," took in $419.7 million worldwide on a pricey negative spend of $225 million, Disney told production partner Walden Media that it was through with the family-oriented franchise.
Fox picked it up, swapping in Apted for Adam Adamson, who directed the first two features, and re-focusing the "Narnia" marketing on the family market — specifically the Christian-family audiences.
It's hard to tell if that strategy worked, with 56 percent of the audience coming from the non-family demographic.
But this "Narnia" is decidedly less expensive.
And with the third installment of the PG-rated film franchise scoring a solid A-minus score from movie word-of-mouth survey firm Cinemascore, coupled with good "definite recommend" scores, Fox's Aronson believes it will be "the movie of choice throughout the holidays."
Likewise, Sony's Bruer said "The Tourist's" start could also be mitigated by a Christmas movie season that typically delivers "the best multiples of the year."