The Lion, the Witch, and the Box Office
It's been a little over a decade since Walden Media acquired the film rights to C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, and for Walden co-founder and president Micheal Flaherty, it's been an exhilarating ride—even if it has been something of a roller-coaster.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe opened in December 2005 to a massive audience, earning more than $1 billion in box office ($745 million) and DVD sales ($332 million) combined. Critical reviews were good (76 percent positive at Rotten Tomatoes), and the franchise was off to a great start.
But then came the next two films—2008's Prince Caspian and 2010's Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Caspian brought in less than half of the domestic box office that LWW had drawn, and VDT only about a third as much. Critical ratings at Rotten Tomatoes dropped from 76 percent positive for LWW to 67 percent for PC to a tepid 50 percent for VDT, which releases to DVD and Blu-Ray this week
With the dropping numbers, we asked Flaherty if the franchise was in trouble, and if not, which of the Chronicles would be the next film? The Silver Chair comes next in the sequence of books, but Flaherty said Walden and 20th Century Fox, which distributes the movies, have mostly decided on The Magician's Nephew—Narnia's "origins story"—for their next project. (Narnia scholar Devin Brown says Lewis himself would agree with that choice; see his reasons here.)
Why do The Magician's Nephew next?
It's a creative decision in terms of what story we felt has the best opportunity to draw the largest audience. The box office has pretty closely followed the sales pattern of the books. Prince Caspian sells about half of the books of Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, and it did about half of the box office. Caspian sells about a third more books than Dawn Treader, and it did about a third more box office. That pattern continues to decline with Silver Chair being the weakest book in the series in terms of consumer demand.
We just think the origin tale of The Magician's Nephew is a great one, and it brings back the characters that have proven to be the most popular—a lot of Aslan and the White Witch. It explains the origin of the lamppost and the wardrobe. The order of these books is something that few people agree on anyway. While Silver Chair certainly continues Eustace's adventure, we never knew when Magician's Nephew would come in the sequence of films. We never assumed it would be last, and we never assumed it would be first.
A lot of people say The Magician's Nephew is their favorite.
In book sales, it is right behind The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. If you look at the superhero stories or any great franchise in recent years, they all have an origin story. We've yet to make our origin story. But rather than lead with Magician's Nephew, we're following Lewis's lead on this—that it's a lot more interesting if you've been teased with these things, like the wardrobe, rather than explain it right up front. Once people are familiar with the lamppost, the wardrobe, Narnia, and Aslan, Magician's Nephew is a lot more powerful, to go back and explain where all of this came from.
Dawn Treader did poorly in the U.S., but quite well with the foreign box office. Did the low domestic numbers prompt any conversation of calling it quits?
No, because international box office was so strong—three times the domestic. We always look at these things from the international standpoint, that cumulative number.