The holiday box office season kicked off this week to a slower pace than last year - both in the U.S and internationally - putting hopes on Mirimax's controversial The Golden Compass film to rescue the winter.

In 2006, hits like James Bonds Casino Royale, along with such strong titles as Flushed Away, The Departed, Borat and Happy Feet got the box office rolling. This year, heavy expectation lies on New Line's The Golden Compass, which opens in at least 26 markets as well as North America this week.

Philip Pullman's novel The Golden Compass is set in a parallel universe and has been often been compared to author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Books. Mr. Pullman's novel, a book for young adults, is part of a trilogy called His Dark Materials and the title comes from John Milton's poem Paradise Lost.

The story follows a pre-teen called Lyra Belacqua, the protagonist, on a journey from Oxford College to the Arctic Circle in search of her own identity and of some children who have been kidnapped and transported to the North for experimentation. The adventure has created debate with some religious authorities claiming that Pullman's work is an anti-Christian, atheistic manifesto aimed at young people.

Meanwhile, Beowulf seized the No. 1 spot at the foreign box office last weekend, grossing $19.5 million from 60 territories and hiking its total to a respectable $75 million, according to final data issued Monday.