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Disney's Iger: 'Chronicles of Narnia' falls victim to a crowded field

Russ Britt
MarketWatch (MCT)

LOS ANGELES - A highly competitive film season is weighing on the returns of "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger said at an analyst conference Wednesday.

Speaking at the Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference, Iger said the second installment in the "Narnia" series is not doing as well as the first, nor as well as Disney officials had hoped.

Iger pointed out that the movie business is a crowded field, and the marketplace can't always accommodate all the releases that a studio puts out.

"I think there are too many movies being released in the marketplace," Iger said, later adding, "It's a very delicate, very fragile marketplace."

"Prince Caspian" was released May 16 and has made an estimated $146 million in worldwide receipts thus far. But the movie's production costs are estimated at $200 million. In order to turn a profit in theaters alone, "Prince Caspian" would have to make roughly $500 million worldwide when marketing costs are included. The film is expected to have a home video life, however.

Iger says this latest installment is a better film than the first in the series, "The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," which debuted during the 2006 Christmas season. That film went on to make $744.8 million worldwide on a production budget of $180 million.

But the first "Narnia" film benefitted from more favorable scheduling. "Prince Caspian" was sandwiched between two high-profile releases from Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures unit - "Iron Man," with $487.8 million in worldwide returns since its May 2 debut, and eagerly awaited "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." The latter film was released Thursday and has made roughly $300 million worldwide thus far.

"Prince Caspian" originally was scheduled for a Christmas 2007 release but Disney's partner on the series, Walden Media, had another film debuting in that time frame with Sony Corp., "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep."

A third "Narnia" film, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," is tentatively scheduled for release on May 7, 2010. While that's the same general time frame for release as "Prince Caspian," Disney could benefit from having it debut the first weekend in May. That's considered the first weekend of the summer season and the time in which "Iron Man" debuted.

Iger pointed out Disney has cut back on film production and is trying to be more selective. He added the company won't always score a hit every time out.

"It's a good lesson," he said. "It just informs us that much more of what we need to do."

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