By Gabe Toro | The Playlist January 2, 2011 at 7:00AM
2010 ended with a whimper with most studio execs facing an uncertain 2011, as the year closed with eight consecutive weekends of box office earning lower than its 2009 counterpart despite five major 3D releases goosing prices. Of course, 3D is a gimmick, but it’s foolish to consider that each of those five films were relative underperformers due to disinterest in the format when even the most ardent fan must admit to subpar product. Of course, the industry is always looking for a scapegoat when the answer is clearly, “terrible movies are being made and should not be,” so the disappearance of 3D (not likely) will happen before a sudden spike in high quality entertainment.
At least there were a few decent performers in the first weekend of 2011, rebounding from the tepid Christmas frame. Such are the expectations of January, which continues to carry a stigma despite the month providing ample stomping grounds for the likes of “Avatar” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” If every January weekend shakes out like this, with two $20 million+ earners at the top, the moneymakers will be pleased.
Midweek tracking suggested “True Grit” could lap incumbent number one “Little Fockers,” and while it didn’t happen, it was an honorable photo finish. While 'Fockers' faced a slight audience drop, 'Grit' mostly held steady on its opening numbers, and after two weekends, it’s easily the biggest film in the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre and a sure bet for $100 million. 'Fockers' benefited from the families who remain together into the New Year, but once people are back at work and school, the momentum favors the cowboys. It might not even take long, as these estimates are close enough that when official figures are released on Monday, the 'Fockers' take might seem fairly little indeed.
Disney can thank their lucky stars that, as the only teen boy attraction in the marketplace, “Tron: Legacy” hasn’t done a box office faceplant. The film’s last two sessions suggest that $150 million is certainly in reach, a decent box office target for a $300 million+ gamble. Unfortunately, international hasn’t been quite as robust as Disney hoped, and overall sentiment on the film is lukewarm, placing unneeded pressure on ancillaries to succeed. Maybe next time don’t price those Quorra Real Dolls so extravagantly, eh, Walt?
The kiddie pileup continues between “Yogi Bear,” “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” and “Tangled,” with Disney’s Rapunzel tale inching closer to the other two despite entering week six. It’s industry shenanigans that suggest the two least-grossing films of the three could go on to be more successful than “Tangled,” which is approaching $300 million worldwide. The listed budget on the fairy tale is $260 million, reportedly accommodating a mid-production stoppage and the decision to start from scratch. The film will be a popular renter, sure, but you don’t break even with those numbers overnight.
'Yogi' and 'Narnia' face more certain waters. 'Yogi' was likely a smash-and-grab at an affordable price, and while it's understandable to wonder about the home video viability of 3D films, the film was made to do reliable catalog numbers. And 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader,' the cheapest entry in the series thus far, has made an unlikely dash to $100 million, with much greater international interest suggesting a final tally close to $350 million. A return to 'Narnia'? It’s not impossible.
“The Fighter” held steady, threatening to break through, and it should cross the $50 million mark by next weekend. Not likely to hit that target is “Gulliver’s Travels,” flopping about in weekend two amidst audience apathy. No question this damages Jack Black’s leading man viability, as he’s likely back to supporting roles for a while; his next two projects being the bird watching ensemble “The Big Year” and the Richard Linklater indie “Bernie.” “Black Swan” continues to play strong in under 2,000 theaters, one of the more impressive $50 million performers in recent memory, while "The King's Speech" surprisingly pushed into the top 10 with a sturdy $10k per-screen average on only 700 screens.
In indie releases, "Blue Valentine" opened to $180k on only four screens, no doubt helped by the hubbub over that ratings controversy -- the MPAA loses again, and hard. Also opening was Mike Leigh's delightful "Another Year," which debuted on six screens to $120k. In its second weekend of release, "Country Strong" nailed $43k on two screens on its way to a nationwide expansion next weekend, while Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere" averaged a little under $18k per-screen at eight locations for a $143k take, and Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist" nabbed $50.8k on three screens in its second weekend with a healthy $17k per-screen.
The news wasn't so rosy for all indie releases, however, as a competitive marketplace is allowing titles to fall by the wayside. "Rabbit Hole" struggled in its second weekend with $136k on 34 screens, an average of only $4k per screen, while "Casino Jack" only scored $81k on 18 screens. And if we were betting on it, we're guessing "I Love You Phillip Morris" isn't going to see that nationwide expansion anytime soon -- after its fifth weekend of release, the total stands at a little over $1.1 million, with this weekend bringing a feeble $2.9k per screen at 68 locations. It's a crowded season for indie films, but perspective is needed -- more people paid to see "Paranormal Activity 2" in theaters this weekend than "The Illusionist." Make it a good new year, and support your local arthouse, boys and girls.
1. Fockers Jr. (Universal) - $26.3 million ($103 mil.)
2. True Grit (Paramount) - $24.5 million ($87 mil.)
3. Pron: Legacy (Disney) - $18.3 million ($131 mil.)
4. Yogi Bear 3D (WB) - $13 million ($66 mil.)
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: Again (Fox) - $10.5 million ($87 mil.)
6. Tangled 3D (Disney) - $10 million ($168 mil.)
7. The Fighter (Paramount) - $10 million ($46 mil.)
8. Gulliver's Travels (Fox) - $9.1 million ($27 mil.)
9. Black Swan (Fox) - $8.5 million ($47 mil.)
10. The King's Speech (Weinstein) - $7.6 million ($23 mil.)