'Golden Compass' disappoints at box office

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — New Line Cinema released "The Golden Compass" with the anticipation it would be a holiday hit, but its domestic box office receipts thus far have been a disappointment for the distributor.

The controversial movie finished in first place on opening weekend with $25.7 million — short of the hoped-for $30-$40 million — and over the subsequent weekend fell to third place with $8.8 million, a relatively large 66 percent drop from its first weekend.

To date the film, made on a hefty $180 million budget, has made just over $40 million domestically.

By comparison, Disney's first "Chronicles of Narnia" film also cost $180 million to make but brought in $65.5 million its first weekend and $31.8 million its second weekend, a 51.4 percent drop. Domestically, it grossed $291.7 million.

After its opening weekend, Rolf Mittweg of New Line Cinema told USA Today the religious controversy over The Golden Compass could have had an impact, although he noted that sometimes controversy helps.

"Historically, that tends to be ineffective — look at The Da Vinci Code," he said. "No one was supposed to see that, either."

The Golden Compass is based on the first book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" triology. A self-professed atheist, Pullman over the years has made clear his hatred for C.S. Lewis' Narnia series, once calling it "propaganda in the service of a life-hating ideology." Pullman's books, in fact, are about killing God, something that literally happens in the third and final book. For that reason his trilogy has been dubbed the "anti-Narnia." In one famous 2001 interview the British author even said, "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."

The first movie in Pullman's trilogy watered down some of the more controversial items, substituting the word "Magisterium" for the word "church." The second and third books, in fact, are far more controversial. Movie director Chris Weitz said before the movie was released that the more controversial ideas were removed to make it more acceptable to the public.

"The whole point, to me, of ensuring that 'The Golden Compass' is a financial success is so that we have a solid foundation on which to deliver a faithful, more literal adaptation of the second and third books," he said on an MTV movie blog in mid-November.

But while the movie has had average success in the U.S., it has done quite well overseas and in other countries, finishing first in its first two weekends. According to Hollywood Reporter, The Golden Compass has made $91.2 million so far outside America, including $25.1 million in the U.K.; $11.2 million in Spain; $9.9 million in France; and $9.2 million in Germany.


Compiled by Michael Foust. Box office data gathered from BoxOfficeMojo.com.