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.

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Box Office Preview: “Little Fockers” to top “Tron: Legacy” and “Gulliver’s Travels” opens, but, come on, “True Grit” is here. Yee-haw and Merry Xmas.

I could almost end this pre-Christmas Weekend box office preview with the overlong headline above. Nevertheless, I’ll fill in the blanks a little.

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller face off over

For reasons known only to the masses of this nation’s moviegoers and the strange gods they pray to, the third film in the saga of Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and his oh-so-hilariously quirky family and in-laws, is expected to top the weekend handily. That seems especially so in the wake of the soft opening last weekend of “Tron: Legacy.”

The nation’s critics, however, will not be pleased. My esteemed colleague/boss, the usually gentle and kindly Will Harris, lost all his holiday cheer and did not spare the rod on “Little Fockers.” He’s hardly alone. Especially for a film with some of the biggest stars of the last forty years in supporting roles, it’s getting absolutely abysmal reviews. A rare exception among the Rotten Tomatoes pull quotes is one of my favorite critics and cinephile bloggers, Glenn Kenny. Glenn admits to having very low expectations and laughing a few times. He went on to rave that the film is “not particularly excruciating” and only 90 minutes long.

As for the cash predictions, it’s not Christmas without jolly Carl DiOrio, who I assume is vacationing this week while Pamela McClintock is pulling b.o. oracle duty at The Hollywood Reporter. She tells us that the magic number over the long holiday weekend is $60 million for the “Little Fockers.” With Ben Fritz of the L.A Times also taking some time off it appears, Daniel Frankel of The Wrap adds that “Fockers” could make as much as $70 million for still somewhat beleaguered Universal. With this many stars, I guess it’s possible people will be fooled persuaded into paying $10 or more a head to see it. And, with the diversity of ages, it should prove that folks from 1 to 92 apparently can’t get enough of poop jokes.

Jeff Bridges takes aim at the box office in Vastly higher up the cinema chain of being, if vastly lower on budget and with only two megastars in tow, “True Grit” will do its best to restore the box office luster of the classic western to our movie screens. It’s apparently an unusually straightforward film for the Coen Brothers, who re-adapted the poignant and funny novel by Charles Portis that was previously filmed back in ’69 by Henry Hathaway with a certain former Marion Mitchell Morrison in the role of irascible, trigger happy Rooster Cogburn. Since it’s the Coens, naturally, the reviews are as rapturous as those for “Fockers” reviews are heinous. Our own Jason Zingale’s sincere but qualified praise seems almost a pan by comparison.

There seems to be a consensus that $20 million for Paramount will be the weekend take for the tale of retribution in the badlands. That’s not bad for a film that cost a relatively modest $38 million (“Fockers” is another $100 million comedy.) Still, can’t hope rooting for a Western to do even better.

Apparently wishing to avoid getting completely ignored in the wake of the other two openers, the  Jack Black vehicle, “Gulliver’s Travels,” will be opening Friday, not Wednesday, to modest expectations. Considering the film allegedly somehow connected to a literary classic by Jonathan Swift had one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen, that seems fair.

Those wanting to flee the loudness and crudeness of mainstream cinema this weekend may check out “The King’s Speech,” which is expanding into 600 theaters on much Oscar buzz as is the way of the Weinsteins. Or, if they live in a very big city indeed, the debut in limited release of the latest from the arty and gentle Sofia Coppola and Focus Features, “Somewhere.” As in “somewhere there’s a movie about family won’t rely primarily on scatological humor.”

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Mid-week movie blips and bleeps

Another night under the Klieg lights.

* Nikki Finke is obviously in a nasty mood over it, but Rachel Abramowitz at the L.A. Times has a fairly interesting piece on Angelina Jolie‘s upcoming portrayal of best-selling mystery novelist Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta. Even though this will be character’s first appearance on film, they’ve decided to preboot the character by starting with an new “origins” story for the medical examiner character. (Was she bitten by a radioactive pathologist, perhaps?)

* You may think Sundance has been over for a few weeks now, but Anne Thompson details hows it’s not even close to being so simple as she describes how the indie film world is doing its business. One takeaway point: though indie filmmakers are making the most of new media with VOD and slightly older media with DVD, you still need “robust” theatrical to be in the mix if you’re hoping for significant bucks. (H/t Mr. Ebert’s Amazing Twitter feed.)

* The Coen’s have found the young, female lead to play opposite Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn in their sure-to-be interesting nouveau “True Grit,” and it’s 13 year-old Hailee Steinfeld. Mike Fleming has the scoop.

* Pulp loving writer-director Shane Black of “Lethal Weapon” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is going to be helming a new cinematic take on Doc Savage writes Renn Brown of CHUD, via Variety. Brown admits to not knowing his Doc Savage, but I myself went through a pulp phase and read several of the good doctor’s adventures as a youth. I can tell you that “Scooby Doo” is not really the first thing that comes to mind. He’s really more of a non-superpowered Superman, or a much more clean living and nonviolent James Bond, but with the mental faculties of an Indiana Jones and a touch of Jesus Christ. (He has hangs out with a bunch of somewhat more flawed guys who help him to do his various earth-shattering good deeds. He’s so tough, however, he only needs five of them.) Buckaroo Banzai owes his very existence to Doc. Pretty much the only thing Doc couldn’t do was to get through a day’s work without ripping his shirt into shreds. In the world of pulp heroes, he was definitely the daylight yin to the dark yang of “The Shadow.” The character has foiled filmmakers before, but I think Black may be the man for the job.

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Hit and run

I’m a busy guy tonight, so let’s see how brief I can manage to be tonight with bits and pieces of movie news…

Ricky Gervais in * Ricky Gervais will be hosting the Golden Globes. I’m usually a one-award-show-yearly kind of a guy (and guess which show it is) but the fates and cool hosts like Gervais and Neal Patrick Harris are forcing me to actually watch more of the things.

* This post by Nikki Finke doesn’t really add much of anything new that I could see to a very good two week old L.A. Weekly piece about “coming out” PR specialist Howard Bragman, but it does underline the big changes that are surely coming in terms of how Hollywood, and the world, treats gay people.

* The Coen Brothers first ever real western — a new version of the not terribly critically or cinephile acclaimed 1969 John Wayne Oscar-winner, “True Grit” — may have a pretty high flying cast: Matt Damon and Josh Brolin are “in talks” to play bad guy and foil to Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn. Presumably Brolin is stepping into the role played by Robert Duvall, who was not quite famous a couple of years prior to “The Godfather,” while Damon will be playing the character first performed by my older sister’s all-time crush, singer-guitarist temporarily turned actor and TV variety host, Glen Campbell.

* A movie theater that serves samosas — that’s what I call movie going living, American Bollywood style.

Okay, that was pretty quick. Why can’t I do this every time?

  

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The Duke and the Dude

An item about a possible casting choice I missed last week, as per Cinematical’s Elisabeth Rappe:

At first glance, [Jeff] Bridges seems a pretty offbeat choice for Rooster Cogburn [in the Coen Brother’s planned remake of 1969’s “True Grit“]. But having just rewatched the John Wayne original last week, I think it might just be casting heaven. Rooster is a killer, but he’s also a fall down drunk, full of sarcastic quips, and surprisingly tender-hearted.

Why not? Bridges is, after all, an actor even if he’s rarely played someone you could call a bad-ass. Below, a comparison –and since the second video is from “The Big Lebowski” you can safely trust that it is NSFW for language, including an ethnic epithet along with a world of painful f-bombs.

  

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