The deathmatch of 2010’s holiday season has spilled into the New Year, with “True Grit” and “Little Fockers” matching wits for the top spot at the box office. As projected, the Coen Brothers' western finally surpassed the lowest-common-denominator sequel, but it remains close, and it’s hard to forecast a winner on either side.
Of course, if you care about movies in any way, Paramount’s old-fashioned western is the winner, as it’s a higher quality of product than the star-studded piece of shit that is 'Fockers.' But financially, the picture remains a bit fuzzier. 'Grit,' still $14 million behind 'Fockers,' remains a dicey international play, as the western, a uniquely American genre, rarely brings in crowds on other shores. There haven’t been many westerns in the last decade, and “True Grit” is the most successful since ’94’s “Maverick,” so the newer global paradigm -- where studios expect movies to score half their revenue internationally -- could change this. But $140 is in the bag, which was more than people were expecting, and if the awards heat kicks in (highly likely), 'Grit' could make a January and February run to the “Dances with Wolves” $184 million take, becoming the highest grossing cowboy picture of all-time.
'Fockers' meanwhile, was reverse engineered to be a big box office hit, and in that aspect, it will deliver. If it plays through January, it could hot-foot to $150 million+ domestic, and if it matches that internationally, then the film can save face. The studio won’t reveal how much the film cost overall, though there’s reason to believe the costly fall reshoots boosted the budget far past $100 million. This looks like it will definitely rank as the lowest grossing of the series, and the most expensive, but $300 worldwide (and, no doubt, a robust DVD life) is a good number for ending the franchise.
Repeating our popular theory, the mark of a true star isn’t the amount of big blockbusters they can open, but how they can carry middling projects to a double digit opening. Sadly, Nicolas Cage has damaged his brand enough that his movies are far from events, and so you could feel the audience being aware that this was the first of five Cage projects this year, each one more appetizing than “Season of the Witch.” But a muddy, dark-looking medieval adventure dumped in January with a middling star opening to $10 million isn't beyond what we should expect.
At a certain point (probably sometime before the extensive reshoots), Relativity realized they were not even going to break even with a $60 million budget, but it’s about saving face and keeping your pride when it comes to troubled productions. “Season of the Witch” should have been a $30-$40 million sinkhole, but it became much more in order to make the picture presentable, with the hopes that TNT finds it inoffensive enough to burn some Saturday afternoon programming hours. This is bad business. This is Hollywood. Perception is everything. This is terrible for Relativity, still new to the distribution game, but hopefully they had a contingency plan, since everyone knew this was never going to do $20 million in its first three days.
“Tron: Legacy” is hitting $150, and a lot of Disney execs can breathe easier. Internationally, the film has been received with a shrug, so more than $300 million global seems a bit optimistic. “Tron: Legacy” can’t be considered a loss because “Tron: Legacy” is not just a movie, but an ancillary mudslide. Disney has invested in the 'Tron' experience, which means the movie is part of a full-blown marketing charge that includes toys and television. The movie would have made the franchise a short play if it did $600 million worldwide, but now it becomes a long play, with the hopes that the intended television show hits, spreading the brand name across other media. In other words, box office prognosticators need to be knee-deep in consumer reports, because “Tron: Legacy” is part of a multi-marketplace approach.
“Country Strong” platformed after a (really) Oscar-qualifying run at the end of 2010, but the numbers weren’t too strong. It seemed like a transparent grab at the CMT audience, but did this connect? Did this audience think that this was blue state actors like Gwyneth Paltrow and Leighton Meester masquerading as red staters? Does this audience exist? Does “Country Strong” sound like the title of a concert film, or a straight-to-DVD action picture? Analysis could be derived from the more erudite experts, but the bottom line is that it appears there was no anticipation for this.
“Black Swan” has done what no other indie release of 2010 has done in less than 2,000 theaters in crossing $60 million. The ballet thriller has plenty of juice left, so with awards heat gathering, who knows where the ceiling lies. Or is erected? Or materializes? Not sure about metaphorical ceilings. The film continues to outpace “The Fighter,” though the Mark Wahlberg drama will eclipse $60 million soon. Not far behind is “The King’s Speech,” which has exceeded $30 million without hitting 1,000 theaters.
“Yogi Bear,” "Tangled" and "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" are still playing, but they're all pretty much tapped out. “Yogi Bear” can possibly leg it to $90, and 'Narnia' will pass $100 million and change, while "Tangled" looks like it will finish at $180. All can thank ancillaries for the profits that will come. In indie theaters, "Blue Valentine" had the biggest returns, with $719k on 40 screens, while "Somewhere" expanded to 17 locations, averaging $9k pre-screen for a $160k take. "Another Year" had a strong $13k per-screen for a $91k take on only seven screens, while "The Illusionist" continued a strong limited run with $34k on only three screens. What kind of a world is this that "The Illusionist" is only on three screens? Support your local arthouse, boys and girls.
1. True Gritz (Paramount) - $15 million ($110 mil.)
2. Meet The Parents: The Final Fockering (Universal) - $13.8 million ($124 mil.)
3. Season of the Witch (Relativity) - $10.7 million
4. Lon: Tregacy (Disney) - $9.8 million ($148 mil.)
5. Mixed Race Swan (Fox) - $8.4 million ($61 mil.)
6. Country Strong (Screen Gems/Sony) - $7.3 million ($7.4 mil.)
7. The Fiytah (Paramount) - $7 million ($58 mil.)
8. The King's Beast (Weinstein) - $6.8 million ($33 mil.)
9. Yogi Bear (WB) - $6.8 million ($76 mil.)
10. Tangled (Disney) - $5.2 million ($176 mil.)