Sunday, January 2, 2011

Weekend Box Office (01/02/11): Little Fockers, True Grit dominate New Year's weekend, family films stay above water.

As is usually the case for New Year's weekend, there are no new wide releases, leaving the field for holdover domination and a couple smaller pictures to make a last-minute Oscar-qualifying limited opening. Little Fockers once again topped the box office over the weekend, although it was much closer than expected. The big news was the incredible staying power of True Grit, which dropped just 1.7% from last weekend's terrific opening sprint. The critically-acclaimed Coen brothers western grossed another $24.4 million, compared to last weekend's $24.8 million opening three-day haul. Drops like that are generally reserved for the likes of Avatar and The Sixth Sense. With $86.6 million in twelve days, the film is easily the highest-grossing picture for the Coens. The film is obviously playing like a general audiences smash and has become a front-runner at this year's Oscars. It is also on track to crack $100 million in the next week or so, and it will easily surpass the $113 million gross of Wild, Wild West to become the second-highest grossing western in US history, behind the $184 million haul of Dances with Wolves. Oscar win or no Oscar win, this is a huge and genre-reviving triumph for everyone involved.

The number one film of the weekend was indeed Little Fockers, but that doesn't make it a champion in any relevant way. The film dropped 16.4% in its second weekend, pulling in $25.7 million for a twelve-day running total of $102.7 million. The long holiday was kind to the critically-ravaged three-quel, as casual movigoers who either didn't read the reviews or didn't care about the reviews gave this one just enough staying power to avoid the tag of 'flop'. Had the film not cost $100 million, the numbers being posted would be pretty terrific for a comedy, and no one is going to get fired from the probable $140 million finish and possible $300 million worldwide grab. Still, the film is $60 million behind the 12-day total of Meet the Fockers, and it's just $23 million ahead of the ten-day total of Meet the Parents at this juncture. Again, this isn't a fall-on-your-face failure by any stretch of the imagination. But this was supposed to be Universal's easy-money cash-in after getting creamed over the last two years with more original and/or challenging projects (The Wolfman, Public Enemies, Drag Me to Hell, Funny People, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Green Zone, etc) that underperformed or cost too much.

Tron: Legacy remained in third place, with a $18.7 million third-weekend and a $131.3 million total. The film only dropped 2.1% from last weekend, which puts its final numbers in question. The film isn't collapsing at all, but it's doing nearly 25% of its business on IMAX screens, which it will lose on the 14th to The Green Hornet. The picture is looking at around $170 million for a domestic haul, and its already grossed nearly $200 million worldwide. Again, this won't be a firing offense, but the film cost way too much and was the victim of perhaps unrealistic box office expectations (anyone who thought this would perform like Fellowship of the Ring, let alone Avatar, should be kicked out of the box office punditry club). Come what may, there is a good chance that the Jeff Bridges box office champion of December 2010 will be True Grit, not Tron: Legacy, which is kinda astonishing. Either way, Mr. Bridges is about to score his second and third-biggest grossing domestic winners in just a week (current number two is Seabiscuit with $120 million, number one is Iron Man at $318 million), it's just a question of which picture ends up second and which ends up third.

Yogi Bear shot up 56% from last weekend, pulling in $12.3 million. The holiday surge gives the film $65.7 million and gives it a fighting chance at surpassing its $80 million budget in domestic grosses. Heck, everything went way up %-wise after the top three films over this holiday weekend. Tangled surged 52% and ended the weekend with $167.8 million, putting it within a stone's throw of the $171 million domestic haul of Tarzan. After that, it will be the third-biggest non-Pixar Disney cartoon in history, behind Aladdin ($217 million) and The Lion King ($328 million). I still think this awfully-good cartoon could have made it to $200 million had Disney not needed to spend so much money marketing Tron: Legacy right after Thanksgiving. Come what may, it will be interesting to see if Disney indeed quits making fairy-tales after the obvious success of its allegedly 'final fairy tale cartoon'. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader had a token 8% uptick, allowing the film to gross another $10.2 million and end the year with $86.9 million. The third Narnia film will squeak by the $100 million mark, and the picture is nearing $300 million in worldwide grosses. But it remains to be seen whether the stench of domestic disappointment and over-budgeting will prove fatal to the seemingly dead franchise.

In Oscar-bait news, The Fighter is now at $46.3 million. Where it will go from here is an open question, as the astounding success of True Grit has kneecapped the boxing drama, as the Wahlberg vehicle is no longer the official populist Oscar contender of 2010. Still, the film will score nominations (and probably wins) for co-stars Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, so the film will be playing all the way through the awards season. And the $25 million drama is already a pretty solid hit no matter what happens now. Also nearing $50 million is Black Swan, which got an extra boost of free publicity due to the surprise engagement/pregnancy of Oscar front-runner Natalie Portman. Considering the overtly sexual and often intensely strange nature of this acclaimed ballet horror film, the current $47.8 million domestic gross (with much more to come as the various awards are handed out) is a major win for Fox Searchlight. And let's be honest, this thing is going to be huge in Europe.

The other major contender in semi-wide release was The King's Speech, which continued to make its case as the 'grown up comedy' of the season. I finally saw the film just before the holiday, and it's certainly an accessible and crowd-pleasing picture. It's splendidly acted and quite fun, but it's a bit slight. Still the $15 million drama has already grossed $22.9 million with lots more still to come. Among the Oscar contenders in limited release, Rabbit Hole is still struggling on just 34 screens, having grossed $435,229 so far. It expands on January 14th, and it's well worth checking out if you can stomach the subject matter. Two new openers made their last-minute mark on 2010 as well. The acclaimed marital-strife drama Blue Valentine scored $48,432 per each of its four screens. The Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams vehicle will expand throughout this month. Mike Leigh's Another Year scored $18645 on six screens. Despite being one of the best films of 2010, 127 Hours is pretty much finished barring an Oscar-related re-release. The survival story crossed the $10 million mark just this week and won't make it to $15 million without a Best Actor win for James Franco (it's either him or Colin Firth of The King's Speech).

That's it for this weekend and thus the 2010 calendar year. Join us in 2011 when the much-delayed (and apparently much tinkered-with) Nicolas Cage supernatural adventure Season of the Witch finally opens. Expanding from limited release will be the Gwenneth Paltrow vehicle Country Strong and the acclaimed Jim Carrey/Ewan McGregor comedy I Love You Phillip Morris. Until then, check out my end-of-2010 wrap up and keep reading.

Scott Mendelson

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