Another fantasy world has joined Hollywood's instant-blockbuster club. Disney's "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" — adapted from C.S. Lewis' tale of enchantment, epic battles and talking animals — debuted as the weekend's top movie with $67.1 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Expanding nationwide after two weekends in limited release, the Warner Bros. thriller "Syriana," an oil-industry saga whose ensemble cast includes George Clooney and Matt Damon, ran second with $12 million.
Warner's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the No. 1 film the previous two weekends, slipped to third with $10.3 million, raising its domestic total to $244.1 million.
"Chronicles of Narnia" kicked off what is likely to be a strong finish for Hollywood after a box-office slump that has lingered most of the year, leaving attendance down 7 percent compared to 2004.
The top 12 movies took in $117.8 million, up 17 percent from the same weekend last year.
Right behind "Chronicles of Narnia" comes Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong," expected to open to huge audiences Wednesday.
"We've never needed two films like this more than we do now," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "It's the knockout punch that Hollywood needs."
"Chronicles of Narnia" follows the "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings" films as the latest fantasy franchise making the leap from book to screen courtesy of dazzling computer animation.
The three "Lord of the Rings" movies had respective debuts of $47.2 million, $62 million and $72.6 million. The first three "Harry Potter" flicks each opened in the $90 million range, with the fourth film, "Goblet of Fire," debuting in November with $102 million.
"Chronicles of Narnia" follows four siblings who cross into an alternate world, where they join unicorns, centaurs, a talking lion and other beasts to battle an evil witch.
Though Universal's "King Kong" will compete for much of the same audience, distributor Disney expects business to remain strong for "Chronicles of Narnia."
"I think there's more than enough room for two major hits in a season, and because of the length of the holidays, both films are going to be here for a long, long time," said Chuck Viane, Disney head of distribution.
In limited release, Academy Awards hopefuls "Brokeback Mountain" and "Memoirs of a Geisha" had stellar debuts.
Focus Features' "Brokeback Mountain," starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as sheepherders who share a summer of love then conceal an ongoing affair from their families, took in $544,549 in just five theaters. On Saturday, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association picked "Brokeback Mountain" as the year's best movie.
Sony's "Memoirs of a Geisha," starring Ziyi Zhang as a woman born into poverty who becomes a queen bee in the last days of Japan's tradition-bound geisha houses, grossed $674,000 in eight theaters.
Both films go into more theaters Friday and continue to expand through awards season.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," $67.1 million.
2. "Syriana," $12 million.
3. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," $10.3 million.
4. "Walk the Line," $5.75 million.
5. "Yours, Mine & Ours," $5.15 million.
6. "Aeon Flux," $4.6 million.
7. "Just Friends," $3.9 million.
8. "Pride & Prejudice," $2.5 million.
9. "Chicken Little," $2.3 million.
10. "Rent," $2 million.