Maybe potential moviegoers were too busy Christmas shopping this weekend to think much about travel, or travel-themed movies. Far fewer than expected booked passage with either of the weekend's wide releases, 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' and 'The Tourist.' 'Narnia' won the box office weekend with an estimated $24.5 million, but given the expectations for 'Dawn Treader,' that's barely treading water.
Not that anyone expected 'Dawn Treader' to do as well as the first two 'Narnia' movies. 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' opened with $65.6 million on this same weekend five years ago, while 'Prince Caspian' debuted with $55 million in 2008. With the apparent downward trend, the nearly three-year wait between sequels, middling reviews and competition for the fantasy/family audience from 'Tangled' and 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I,' 'Dawn Treader' faced stormy seas. Still, the series' fanbase (including Christian viewers who appreciate C.S. Lewis' spiritual allegories) and the 3-D surcharge were expected to boost 'Dawn Treader' to a debut between $38 and $45 million.
That it opened with just over half of its projected sales has to be considered a major disappointment both for the franchise and for Fox, which picked up the 'Narnia' banner after Disney dropped it. 'Wardrobe' worked its magic toward a $291.7 domestic total, while 'Caspian' topped out at $141.6 million. 'Dawn Treader' will have trouble cracking $100 million domestically, which will continue Fox's year-long losing streak; the studio hasn't had a film crack the $100 million mark since 2009's 'Avatar.'
'The Tourist' opened in second place with an estimated $17.0 million. That also has to be considered a disappointment, since the combined star power of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, as well as the dearth of competition in the adult thriller niche, had led to expectations of an opening around $25 million. Apparently, pretty faces were not enough to overcome weak word-of-mouth. At least Sony should be able to count on better returns overseas, where Depp and Jolie's names should carry greater weight. (Fox, too, can probably count on overseas receipts to rescue 'Dawn Treader.')
'Tangled' maintained a lock on the family audience, coming in third with an estimated $14.6 million, down just 33 percent from last weekend. In three weeks, Disney's Rapunzel cartoon has taken in $115.6 million.
'Harry Potter' is falling faster. It came in fourth with an estimated $8.5 million, about half what it earned last week, when it was overtaken by 'Tangled.' Still, it's earned $257.7 million in four weeks and could cross $300 million by the time it leaves theaters.
In fifth place, 'Unstoppable' is still nearly that, slowing down just 37 percent this weekend. The runaway train thriller grossed an estimated $3.8 million, for a five-week total of $74.3 million.
On the limited-release front, Mark Wahlberg's Oscar hopeful 'The Fighter' opened with a knockout per-screen average of $80,000 on four screens, for an estimated total of $320,000. That's not quite as much as the 2010 record set two weeks ago by the opening of 'The King's Speech' ($88,862 on each of four screens), but it's enough to edge out 'Black Swan,' which opened last week with a per-screen average of $77,459 at 18 venues. (For comparison's sake, 'Dawn Treader' averaged $6,892 per screen, the biggest per-screen figure of any of the current wide-release movies.)
Still, don't cry for 'Black Swan.' Natalie Portman's Academy-Award-seeking ballet thriller added 72 more screens this weekend and vaulted up to No. 6 on the box office chart with an estimated $3.3 million. That's $37,022 per venue; maybe 'Dawn Treader' and 'Tourist' would have grossed six times as much if they'd featured fragile, tightly wound, bisexual ballerinas.
The full top 10:
1. 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,' $24.5 million (3,555 screens), new release
2. 'The Tourist,' $17.0 million (2,756), new release
3. 'Tangled,' $14.6 million (3,565), $115.6 million total
4. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I,' $8.5 million (3,577), $257.7 million
5. 'Unstoppable,' $3.81 million (2,967), $74.3 million
6. 'Black Swan,' $3.3 million (90), $5.6 million
7. 'Burlesque,' $3.2 million (2,876), $32.6 million
8. 'Love and Other Drugs,' $3.0 million (2,240), $27.6 million
9. 'Due Date,' $2.55 million (1,990), $94.9 million
10. 'Megamind,' $2.51 million (2,425), $140.2 million
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.