The Golden Compass is a Box-Office Disappointment December 9, 2007

The Golden Compass is a Box-Office Disappointment

The Golden Compass movie, based off the books by Philip Pullman, cost around $180,000,000 to make.

In its first weekend, it was a box-office disappointment. While it was the #1 movie, it didn’t make nearly as much money as the studios would have hoped.

In North America, it made an estimated $26,100,000 (more optimistic projections put the estimates at $28,000,000).

For the sake of comparison, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, the first movie in that trilogy, opened at $47,200,000.

New Line, a struggling Time Warner Inc unit hoping to launch another franchise along the lines of its blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” series, said last week it was hoping the film would open to between $30 million and $40 million.

“It’s below expectations, but it’s not an out-and-out debacle,” said [Paul Dergarabedian at Media By Numbers, a tracking firm].

If you factor in overseas markets, you can add another $55,000,000 in ticket sales.

But it’s still not enough to recoup the money spent on the film. Not unless the movie holds steady at or near the top of the weekend box-office lists for another couple weeks. And even then, it’s still a stretch.

It’s not that the Catholic League’s boycott or the various Facebook protest groups worked.

The movie hasn’t been getting a thrilling reception from most audiences, including atheists like the members of the Central Valley Alliance of Atheists and Skeptics (in California), who weren’t very impressed:

So, what did I think of the movie? Atheists everywhere have been hoping that the movie doesn’t suck. It’s odd, Atheists are so used to having people think of us as being immoral, or arrogant, or evil that it no longer really bothers us so much. However the general Atheist opinion seems to be that they would hate to be represented by a poorly made Hollywood movie.

So here’s my take. The movie didn’t suck, but it also wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped it would be.

(A local ABC affiliate took some of the group’s members to see and discuss the movie, along with some Christians. Check out the video here.)

Critics aren’t huge fans, either. gives the movie a combined rating of only 51/100.

Here’s Peter Travers of Rolling Stone:

Me, I just think it blows. What does it matter if you spend millions on a movie – love the talking, battling bears! – if the effects are cheesy, the story runs off on tangents and after watching the movie fail utterly to be the next Lord of the Rings, you just want to go home.

(One notable exception was Roger Ebert, who gave it four stars. That counts for something.)

In any case, this could put the two potential sequels in the trilogy in limbo. Production on those films was only going to begin depending on how the first movie did financially.

Molten Thought has these incorrect ideas about why the movie bombed:

1. There aren’t that many atheists in America; the LWM and academia where most of them reside simply lie about their number.

We are in the tens of millions. That’s an underestimate.

2. Atheists don’t have kids, so there’s no reason to make atheist “family” movies.

We have plenty of kids. There are even books about how to raise children without religion.

3. Atheist movies stink, since they’re motivated by propaganda rather than story or character.

I seem to recall Contact being a fairly popular film.

There are many reasons the movie may not have done so well. Those particular reasons have nothing to do with it.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • HeHasSailed

    The wife and I saw the movie last night. Neither of us were looking for anti-religion or pro-atheist propoganda. We just wanted to be entertained – and that it did. The movie is aimed clearly aimed at children – the age of most lovers of the Narnia series.

    People who are looking for an atheist manifesto from the movie will be disappointed, but I don’t think that was ever the intent of the movie. If you are going to go, go for the entertainment and not some deeper meaning or hidden agenda.

  • Maria

    The movie didn’t suck, but it also wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped it would be.

    that sums it up pretty well. Unfortunately it rushed from scene to scene and cut off too much………the special effects and the acting were nice though……

  • Aj

    Comparing His Dark Materials to The Lord of the Rings is crazy, the difference in numbers of fanbase, readership, and fictional languages is huge. How popular are the Pullman books in America anyway?

    The reviews I’ve listened to and read seemed to think that taking the anti-religious message from the book out, made the movie pointless and dull. Another problem was pressure to make the movie 2 hours when it required 3 hours, something Jackson refused to do with LoTR. Some reviews even suggested readers of the books would like it less than non-readers.

    Another nonbeliever, Neil Gaiman, also had a recent work made into a movie, and Stardust was extremely enjoyable, I definitely recommend it. With $100m less in budget than Compass, made $130m gross worldwide. Surprisingly the US seemed to like it less than Compass, with only $9m on its opening weekend.

    Yet another nonbeliever, Terry Pratchett, has a second TV movie adaption coming of the novel “The Colour of Magic”, and a Hollywood movie adaption of “Wee Free Men” directed by Sam Raimi of Evil Dead and Spiderman fame, I’ve read both books and they’re awesome.

    Neil Gaiman was also involved in the recent release “Beowulf”, writing the screenplay. The next work of his to be released as a movie adaption is Caroline, an animated movie based on a book written for children. The Guardian has a review of Caroline written by none other than Phillip Pullman, bringing the focus of this comment back to start.

  • Molten Thoughts is utterly incorrect for an entirely different reason. He seems to be assuming that most of the audience is made up of atheists. I highly doubt that.

    I glanced through the rest of the blog, and I see plenty to dislike.

  • Aj

    Atheists don’t have kids

    Well duh, storks aren’t likely to bring babies to A-tHE-ists, that would be absurd.

  • Comparing His Dark Materials to The Lord of the Rings is crazy, the difference in numbers of fanbase, readership, and fictional languages is huge. How popular are the Pullman books in America anyway?

    For once Aj and I completely agree. Anyone who thinks that these movies could ever compete w/LOTR is just nucking-futs.

  • I seem to recall Contact being a fairly popular film.

    Was Contact really an atheist film though? Sure it was based on a book by Carl Sagan, but it seemed to me that the ultimate message of the movie actually ended up affirming faith. After all, in the end the main character actually was right in holding onto her “faith” in what she had experienced, despite all the evidence to the contrary. I remembered being rather surprised by that when I saw it, given what I knew about Sagan’s own atheism. Was the book like that too, or did the movie makers alter it?

  • Aj

    I can see how someone who holds irrational beliefs would consider the film to be supportive of holding irrational beliefs. You’re obviously not the first person to come to this conclusion, but so far I haven’t come across a rationalist with this opinion. I haven’t read the book but people have commented on massive departures from it in the film, some changing the dynamic of the ending much.

    If I walk alone somewhere, is it faith that I believe it? No. If I tell you about it, does it require faith for you to believe me? No, if the source is trustworthy, and the journey unextraordinary. Even though it’s not faith to believe these things, it’s also important to note that they’re not truths. Eli in Contact the movie as a scientist acknowledges that it could have been imaginary, and that if she was in their position, she wouldn’t believe her without evidence either. She goes back to the business of trying to discover extraterrestrial intelligent life scientifically, i.e. with evidence.

    In the movie, the journey is represented as reality, not just experience, because it’s not in Eli’s perspective, it’s in the perspective of the rest of the movie. So if the inquest believes Eli, in the movie’s universe, they would be correct. However, they wouldn’t be justified in their belief, it would still require faith. They demanded Eli believe their irrational beliefs about other things but reject Eli’s claim with the same amount of evidence. Not all people who hold irrational beliefs claim they physically experienced something they could explain, e.g. flying to heaven, and talking to angels. I doubt they’re willing to accept every single claim like that either.

    I think people who hold irrational beliefs use the insider knowledge given by the movie, that Eli’s journey was real, as the justification, and they project that to their own beliefs. A rationalist sees this as an error, using the same reasoning the inquest could have believed in an imaginary journey hallucinated because of a head injury.

  • All I know is that I have no interest in fantasy films. I only saw “The Lord of the Rings” originally because there was nothing else playing and then I wanted to see how it ended. Even explicit atheism wouldn’t have been enough to bring me to the cinema.

  • With the hex put on it by the Christian Right, are you surprised?

  • I think the movie makers made various questionable decisions:

    They changed the plot to remove religious references, which evidently has made no difference to the Christians who are concerned. I haven’t seen even one of them say “actually the movie it’s ok because of those changes. Which isn’t surprising since people who like the movie will probably read the book and find out what Pullman really said about the church and God. At the same time those changes will probably annoy fans of the book who wanted to see all the edginess of the book in the movie.

    Along with that they seem to have aimed the movie at a younger crowd than the book is aimed at – it’s more of a teenage book than a Narnia age book. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work: will people know it’s more suitable for younger kids than the book? How will they know? And people wanting the complexity of the book, again, will be disappointed.

    Also, they seemed to fail to understand how tied into the movie’s success the popularity of the book is – it doesn’t seem like the book is hugely known and read in the US. The sales abroad indicate the book is better known there. We were thinking, why didn’t they advertise the movie more? Apparently they said they were relying on word of mouth.

    It will be shame if they don’t make the others – it wasn’t that bad – we enjoyed it. I wrote about it on my blog today, but mostly about the trilogy as a whole (no spoilers), not this particular movie.

    My view is that Christians concerned about it, are (again) missing the point. I don’t see how anyone can think opposing evil institutions that seek to control others is a bad thing. Yet, evidently, to some Christians, all you have to do is call the evil institution ‘The Church’ in your fantasy adventure novel and that rules out the possibility you have anything to say which is worth reading, or that it’s possible for Christians to read your book (or see your movie) without having their faith corrupted.

  • I agree with Mike and AJ. Did they really think it would even compare to LoTR? I was tired of my geek friends talking about LoTR 20 years before the movies were ever made. I hadn’t heard of the Golden Compass until the Catholic League got their panties in a bunch.

  • I hadn’t heard of the Golden Compass until the Catholic League got their panties in a bunch.


    I’m sure the anti-movie publicity has helped get the word out but I think the movie producers should also have done more publicity of their own!

  • $26 million is not a bad opening. Anybody expecting Lord of the Rings numbers was just kidding themselves in the first place. Compass was not a bad film, but I get the impression that they were unable to spend the time necessary to develop the plot and characters fully, and for that it fell short of my expectations.

    Besides, I’m more likely to believe in God than I am in talking polar bears.

  • TXatheist

    I am not a sci-fi person. Don’t like the books and now realize why I never saw Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. I was ready to leave the Golden Compass after 15 minutes and painstakingly sat through 2 hours of it. If there was any reference to religion other than at the end when some lady was talking about controlling people then I missed it. If that was the whole anti-christian part then geesh.

  • stogoe

    I enjoyed the film. It was a pretty good adaptation of a fantasy novel – better than the Harry Potter films, anyways*. My biggest problem with it was that it raced along without any context to the world. It would have been a far greater film if the studio had let the director have 40-60 more minutes of screen time. Here’s hoping we get a director’s cut on DVD.

    (Oh, and I didn’t care for Sir Ian as Iorek. They went for the biggest name, rather than who was the best fit.)

    *The only use I see for the HP films is as a highlights reel, something to whet your appetite for the books. They assume that the audience has read the book, and then merely attempt to echo on film your memories of how much you enjoyed reading it.

  • The religious types never seem to get it. Notoriety always enhances boxoffice returns. There was a similar reaction to the “religious” films of Mel Gibson and Martin Scorcese.

  • Siamang

    Don’t like the books and now realize why I never saw Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.

    TX, you saw the worst of the three. Don’t judge the best based on the worst.

  • JeffN

    I was going to see the movie just to see what all the Hub Bub. was about; however based on some of your above statements i guess i would have to say thank you for saving me the trouble.

    The blog seems to suggest that the opinions of people like Dr James Dobson and the pope just to name a couple have little bearing over what Christians do are don’t do. I would have to disagree. There are a few powerful voices in this country (America) to whom Christians pay close attention to.

  • Richard Wade

    Don’t judge the best based on the worst.

    Exactly right, Siamang. And beyond the assessment of these fantasy novels, that’s a maxim everybody who visits blogs such as this should write on the top of their computer screens.

  • How about the fact that people have downloaded it and viewed it at home?

    I have a hard time spending between $50-60 to go out and see a sub par movie.

  • Just Checked the most recent Box office figures for Golden Compass. After almost six weeks it has made only 67 million in America–a disapointment for such an expensive movie. Internationally, however, it made almost 246 million. So the movie clearly was a financial success, even if you don’t factor in video sales, which often surpase theater box office these days.

    So why did it bomb in America? It may be, as people keep saying, that America doesn’t have very many atheists. But I think it’s because the American papers wrote so much about how it didn’t live up to expectations (even though it had a better first week then Beowulf, which was declared a hit) and people saw the words “disapointment” in the headlines and thought it was a bomb.

    I thought it was wonderful myself. About the only bad thing you could say about it was that it wasn’t as good as Lord of the Rings. But neither is anything else mad in the past decade or so. And, parenthetically, I’m not a devout atheist, so I don’t think that issue had anything to do with it’s success or failure.

  • Ann

    Golden Compass Passes $300M Worldwide
    Source: New Line Cinema
    January 15, 2008

    New Line Cinema’s The Golden Compass, starring Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, crossed the $300 million mark at the worldwide box office and now has a cumulative gross of more than $315 million. The film has earned more than $67 million in the United States since its Dec. 7 opening.

    The fantasy epic has performed strongly in various foreign territories — including the United Kingdom, Spain, South Korea and Australia — where this genre continues to be popular. On March 1, The Golden Compass will open in its last major territory — Japan.

    “‘The Golden Compass’ has immense global appeal,” said Rolf Mittweg, President and Chief Operating Officer of Worldwide Distribution and Marketing at New Line Cinema. “The box office revenue has been nothing less than astonishing overseas. With the forthcoming premiere in Japan, we can expect a significant boost to our worldwide box office.”

    Based on author Philip Pullman’s bestselling and award-winning novel, The Golden Compass tells the first story in Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. The fantasy adventure is written and directed by Chris Weitz, and features an all-star cast of Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Sam Elliott, Eva Green and Dakota Blue Richards.

  • I heard the next two movie in the trilogy are not going to be made… damn.

  • Siamang

    Wow, 300+ worldwide. That’s very impressive. Only in hollywood could that be considered a flop!

  • AnonyMouse

    3. Atheist Christian movies stink, since they’re motivated by propaganda rather than story or character.


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