First movie to gross over $300 million worldwide, while failing to reach $100 million in the U.S. Although a U.S. box office failure, only grossing $70,107,728, the movie captured $302,127,136 at the foreign box office. The total box office for the movie is $372,234,864. This became a more common phenomenon following the expansion of the Chinese box office market, that began in 2010. However, this movie only grossed $4 million in that market.
Ten thousand girls turned up for open auditions in Cambridge, Oxford, Exeter and Kendal for the role of Lyra Belacqua. In June 2006, twelve-year-old London schoolgirl Dakota Blue Richards won the part meeting the approval of Philip Pullman, the author of the novel.
Nonso Anozie was replaced by Ian McKellen as the voice of Iorek Byrnison. The director, Chris Weitz stated in an interview with 'Empire magazine': "It was a studio decision...You can understand why you would cast Ian McKellen for anything, but letting go of Nonso was one of the most painful experiences on this movie for me. I need to say about Nonso that he is one of the most promising and soulful young actors I have encountered in England and I've worked here for quite a bit now and he's actually in the next Mike Leigh...But it was, uh, that was kind of a dark day for me. I kinda wanna go out of my way to point out how much I love Nonso's work. And that's that".
Some scenes were shot in Norway, in places such as Bergen and Svalbard, but none of the actors were allowed to perform there, as the producers couldn't find an insurance company that would allow crew members to walk around with shotguns and because the actors could fall ill due to the extreme temperatures.
Philip Pullman, the author of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, had originally wanted Jason Isaacs to play Lord Asriel, Nicole Kidman to play Mrs. Coulter and Samuel L. Jackson to play Lee Scoresby. But as the author has no role in casting, in the event only Kidman made it into the film.
Director Chris Weitz has himself adapted Philip Pullman's work, citing the film and its sequels to be influenced by Barry Lyndon (1975) and Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977). He also mentioned that the film would make no direct mention of religion or God, two of the key themes of the books - a decision attacked by fans of the trilogy. According to Weitz, New Line Cinema feared that "perceived anti-religiosity" would make the film financially unviable in the USA. However, Weitz reassured fans by saying that religion would appear in euphemistic terms.
In December 2004, Chris Weitz resigned from directing the film, claiming he was daunted by the technical challenges of the story. In August 2005 Anand Tucker was hired to replace Weitz, with the 24-carat approval of Philip Pullman himself. Tucker felt that the film would have as its central theme "Lyra's search for self-discovery and for a family." In May 2006, however, he resigned, citing creative disagreements with New Line Cinema, and Weitz returned to direct.
Sam Elliott hadn't read any of the 'His Dark Materials' books, before he was asked to take the role as Lee Scoresby. He chose to first read the books by Philip Pullman, and then to read the film's script.
Since Iorek, the armored bear, is computer generated, all actress Dakota Blue Richards had to interact with was a large, oval-shaped piece of fur without a head, legs or the rest of its body. When Richards spoke her lines, Iorek's reply could be heard coming from speakers somewhere on set.
The planned sequels never developed, due to an box office under-performance in the US and the uncertain economic climate. However, in November 2015, New Line Cinema announced they would develop an event series based on Philip Pullman's books instead, not related to this film.
Nicole Kidman is raised as a catholic and on the topic of religious controversies of the film she announced that she wouldn't have participated in the film, if she felt it went against her religious beliefs.
The 'real world' night scene Oxford that opens the film included a digitally added skyscraper that doesn't exist in the 'real' Oxford. The scene morphs to the 'alternate world' Oxford which is, in fact, the actual current Oxford street scene.
New Line Cinema estimates that 50% of the potential box office income was unaccomplished due to the religious controversy surrounding the film. The production company sold off foreign rights and proceeds from those sales covered about 60% of the film's $180 million budget.