Weekend box office: “Little Fockers” and “True Grit” face off as the movies have a worrisome New Year’s (updated)

It’s hard to know what Marshall Rooster Cogburn and stern young Mattie Ross would make of a little or big Focker. However, this weekend turned out to be a surprisingly close competition over a weekend that won’t be giving studio executives any particular excuses to party like it’s 2009 and they’ve just released “Avatar“.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in

As Anne Thompson reminds us, this is a weekend when, unlike the usual rather steep decline of ongoing films, we’ll see very small drops or, especially for family films, significant increases. The Box Office Mojo weekend chart, bears that out.

With no major new releases, “Little Fockers” suffered a 14.7% decline, which would be fantastic almost any other weekend, netting an estimated $26.3 million for Universal. That would be somewhat more impressive had the film not cost a ridiculous $100 million. On the other hand, after two weeks, it’s earned back that amount plus some change. Not bad for a movie that probably has the worst reviews of any recent major hit. (Among “top critics,” only funny guy Glenn Kenny failed to drub the movie with a review that double-damns with the faintest possible praise.)

Nipping at its heels, and perhaps very likely to be the more profitable film over time, was the Coen Brothers’ typically excellent first true-western, “True Grit.” Nikki Finke points out that Friday, New Year’s Eve, “Grit” actually earned a bit more than “Fockers.” I guess we can attribute that to the superior movie-going taste of the nation’s wallflowers. (What night did we see this again?) Still, the total estimated take was $24.5 million for Paramount. On the other hand, the price tag was a mere $38 million.Add to all of that a probable slate of Oscar nominations (though I doubt more than one or two wins) good word of mouth — the second week drop was a beyond miniscule 1.7% — and the proven ability of the Coens’ to make films that people continue watching decades later, and you’ve got one case of a studio being amply rewarded for taking a chance on an old school western. Westerns are, of course, deader than a doornail. The exception is when somebody makes a good one.

UPDATE: I failed to mention previously that, at over $86 million already generated by “True Grit,” this is also apparently by far the most successful Coen Brothers films so far by quite a lot. For comparison, “No Country for Old Men” made $76 million and change for its entire run, including a “Best Picture” Oscar win. Better yet, “True Grit” has an ending that won’t leave a significant portion of the audience angry or dissatisfied, so this film should have really significant legs. I doubt they’ll make another western any time soon, but if the Coens want to make “Truly Grittier,” no studio head would stop them.

Jeff Bridges with CGI botox and some new guy in Another Jeff Bridges showpiece, “Tron: Legacy,” held on fairly well in week 3 with a small 4.4% drop and a weekend estimated total of $18.3 million for Disney. It’s still about $30 million shy of making back its $170 budget, though I’m sure that’s just a week or two away. Still, this is no unalloyed coup. Guess I’m not the only person who wonders why the original “Tron” is even discussed today as anything other than a technological advance.

The New Year’s weekend was an overall bummer. It was down 26% compared to New Year’s 20010, and the year as a whole saw movie receipts declining very slightly. Anne Thompson says it went from $10.6 million to $10.5 million. She added that the real issue is not that seemingly tiny increase. It’s obscured by increasing ticket prices for 3D and other films, but that overall attendance declined by a “whopping” 5%, according to Thompson. I think we can attribute that to a stagnant economy, improving home entertainment options, and the inability of the industry to bring back the long-lost ability to turn movies into events worth getting out of the house for. Call me a complete and utter lunatic, but avoiding the insanely obviously cookie-cutter storylines and characterizations of most movies today might also help slightly.

Still, there was good news this week for a number of family films and Oscar hopefuls too numerous to mention. It also wasn’t bad for the two limited releases which came out last Wednesday. Both were rather downbeat films dealing with relationships unhappy, happy, and non-existent. “Blue Valentine,” with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a married couple on their way to a break-up, emerged victorious from it’s battle to avoid a bookings-killing NC-17 with an R-rating and scored the best per-screen average of the holiday weekend, $45,000 in four theaters for a weekend estimated total of $180,000.

Meanwhile, “Another Year,” which I’ve been covering, started the New Year in, I’m guessing, reasonably OK fashion with $20,000 in six theaters for a total of $120,000. A film about a happy couple and they’re incredibly miserable friends and family members, a likely and definitely well-deserved Oscar nomination for Lesley Manville is the very low budget’s film’s hope for real profitability.

anotheryear-14

  

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With Cannes starting to wind down — or with people probably starting to leave in the manner of Hollywood folk at lengthy fests much in the way Los Angelenos leave sporting events early — maybe the news will start to slow down a bit as well. In any case, it’s looking like I won’t be around to cover it tomorrow, and then comes the weekend movie preview, so this will have to tide you over for a bit.

Megan Fox in * Our top story tonight, however, is far away from anything likely to screen in, or even out of, competition at the world’s most famous film festival. Seems that Megan Fox, who you might remember compared director Michael Bay to Hitler some time ago, will not be returning in “Transformers 3.” Apparently Bay has finally realized there are lots and lots of unnaturally attractive young women in Hollywood and some of them can act a little.

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