“Narnia” Fox vs. Disney

Fox is opening "Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"on 3500 screens nation-wide Friday, and its rivals will be watching carefully to see how it performs compares to its two predecessors.

But this isn't just a typical question of sequel fatigue; "Narnia" is an unusual example of a franchise that's swapped hands among Hollywood's most powerful studios.

Disney released the first two "Narnia" films, from Walden Media, then dropped the rights, which Fox picked up.

The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Twentieth Century Fox Film and Walden Media
The Chronicles of Narnia: the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Why would Disney drop the rights to a storied literary franchise?

The debut film in 2005 was a huge hit, grossing $745 million worldwide, but the second in 2008 saw a major drop-off to a $420 million worldwide gross. But that's not all: Disney was sharing the revenue with Walden Media and didn't have full access to the characters' rights to create related attractions in its theme parks or content for its TV stations.

So it simply wasn't worth it.

Fox is on the hunt for another big holiday franchise, and sees promise in the fact that there's the potential to turn several more "Narnia" books to films. One advantage to buying Disney's seconds: much of the marketing cost in a franchise is incurred when introducing audiences to the first film.

But Fox has some major challenges this holiday season — it's up against near-impossible comparisons to last year. Not only did Fox release the biggest blockbuster of all time — "Avatar," which grossed over $2.7 billion worldwide — but it also had a huge hit in "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," which grossed over $400 million.

And now Fox will face competition from Narnia's former parent. Disney's had unexpected success with "Tangled," which goes after a similar family audience. And the week after "Narnia," Disney's 3-D "Tron: Legacy" hits theaters. While this Narnia's expected to yield about $140 million at the US box office, Miller Tabak analyst David Joyce tells me he expects "Tron" to do at least $200 million. And if "Tron" can hit a chord with the same audience that repeatedly turned out in droves for "Avatar" last year, it could be even bigger.

Right now Fox and Disney's domestic box office marketshare are neck and neck- about 13 percent. This is a holiday of singles and doubles- there are no 'Avatar' home runs this year- we'll see which studio ends on top.

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