The future of The Chronicles of Narnia film franchise was called into question once again after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader suffered a rather disappointing debut at the box office - as well as a lukewarm response from audiences & critics.
Many fans speculated that if the series were to continue, bringing The Silver Chair to the big screen would be an effective way to revitalize the Narnia brand. As it turns out, a fourth film is in development - but it looks like they're instead going the prequel route with an adaption of The Magician's Nephew.
Originally conceived as a franchise that could potentially rival the box office might of something like The Lord of the Rings, Walt Disney Pictures ultimately had a very different experience when it came to translating C.S. Lewis' popular series of books from page to screen. After the poor performance of Prince Caspian, the studio opted out of further Narnia installments and 20th Century Fox stepped in to take over production of Dawn Treader.
Despite a more reasonable budget than its predecessors and the added draw of 3D, Dawn Treader only brought in $24.5 million its opening weekend and went on to gross a total of around $107 million domestically. Considering the film cost $155 million, those numbers were not encouraging. It looked as if audience interest in the Narnia series had severely waned and the risk of producing further installments would probably prove to be too great.
However, the film performed significantly better in foreign markets where it took in over $300 million. That puts Voyage's worldwide total just under Prince Caspian's - and that seems to be a gross that Fox can live with. Michael Flaherty, the president of Walden Media, revealed to The Christian Post that the ball is now rolling on the next entry in the series:
"We are starting to talk to Fox and talk to the C.S. Lewis estate now about the Magician's Nephew being our next film ... If we can all agree to move forward, then what we would do is find someone to write the script. So, it could still be a couple of years."
Although The Magician's Nephew was the sixth book published, it is the first story in the chronology of Lewis' Narnia series. It centers around Digory Kirke (the younger version of Professor Kirke from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) and Polly Plummer - two children who are transported to Narnia and at one point even bear witness to its creation. Flaherty indicates that he's particularly enthusiastic about that chapter of the saga:
"I love the Magician's Nephew because it's a great origins story. You get to learn so much about where the wardrobe came from, where the lamppost came from, where Narnia came from."
He also seems undaunted by the performance of the past two Narnia installments and mentions that The Magician's Nephew is one of the more popular books amongst fans. Flaherty is hoping that admiration will help propel the film to greater heights at the box office:
Of course, I remember them saying the same thing about The Voyage of the Dawn Treader before its release - and that popularity seems to be a double-edged sword since the books that were most beloved by readers are probably the ones that will come under the most scrutiny once they become films.
I think the three Narnia films to date have been serviceable, but not incredibly memorable. They seem to have taken a few more liberties with the books than something like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter - and while such deviations aren't always deal breakers, the consensus from fans seems to be that the movies might be good, but they deserved to be great.
There are a lot of theories as to why this franchise never caught on quite like it was intended to, but I suppose the fact that the filmmakers are getting another shot at it is some sort of consolation.
Only time will tell if The Magician's Nephew can steer this franchise back on track - or if the audience has grown tired of what Hollywood has done to The Chronicles of Narnia.