At an admitted production cost of $250 million, which may not even include marketing, The Golden Compass needed a smashing domestic opening weekend just to allay fears that it would cause major long-term problems for a struggling New Line Cinema. Instead, it pulled in an alarmingly low $26 million this weekend at a whopping 3,500 theaters, much closer to Eragon's disasterous $23 million opening weekend last Christmas than the $65 million opening weekend for the first Chronicles of Narnia film or the routine $90 and $100 million openings for the Harry Potter films. (The lowest opening weekend for a Lord of the Rings film was $47 million.) With muted buzz at best, expect Golden's numbers to plummet next weekend, especially with a new crowd of pre-Christmas contenders packing in, and total domestic box office to top out at around $80 million. Ouch.

Over at Nikki Finke's blog, she's declaring Golden a "wildly expensive flop" and specifically citing a low per screen average, which is another indicator that this thing will have no legs and certainly won't do well enough to warrant those two sequels. In fact, coming on the heels of other huge disappointments for New Line like Shoot em Up (a $5 million opening weekend) and Rendition (a $4 million opening weekend) and Mr. Woodcock (an $8 million opening weekend), this will likely spell the end for New Line chairman Bob Shaye, who shareholders already want to dump because of his ridiculous feud with golden goose Peter Jackson.

If there's any saving grace for this boondoggle, it will be international box office, which is important for a film like The Golden Compass. Even though the film may need to pull in over $700 million internationally just to be in the black, the Guardian is reporting that first day grosses in British cinemas were very healthy. The film has already grossed $4.3 million in Britain, which is very substantial, and a good indicator of how it will fare across Europe.