Narnia Roars for Lion’s Share of B.O.

Having missed the boat on Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, Disney hopes to gain its own epic share of the box office with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which opens in 3,616 screens today.

Directed by New Zealand native Andrew Adamson, who rose to fame for helming DreamWorks’ Shrek, this much-anticipate adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic introduces four English children who flee the London blitz in WWII and fall into a magical land where they help the great lion Aslan (a Christian allegory) fight the evil Witch (portrayed with icy coolness by the great Tilda Swinton). The film offers state-of-the-art CG vfx, courtesy of Rhythm and Hues, Sony Pictures Imageworks and ILM.

Disney has been aggressively selling the movie to Christians, emphasizing its central Christ metaphor, and even booked the film early to specially booked church groups last night. Disney-owned El Capitan theater in Hollywood has already booked groups through mid-January. The movie also opens in 13 intl. territories, including the U.K., Germany, Spain, Mexico and New Zealand this weekend. Aslan better do well this weekend, because on Wednesday, he’ll have to battle Peter Jackson’s mighty ape movie King Kong. Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling’s tenacious boy wizard continues to draw crowds, having grossed $30.5 million in its first nine days. Analysts expect Warner Bros.’ Harry and the Goblet of Fire to beat Star Wars: Episode 3′The Revenge of the Sith and emerge as this year’s top box office performer.