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True Grit Surges Past $100 Million at Sleepy Box Office; Cage and Paltrow Pics Are Soft

by Anthony D'Alessandro
January 9, 2011 5:13 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood

On its third go-round, True Grit surged on momentum and strong word-of-mouth to finally beat comedy sequel Little Fockers. The Oscar-buzzed Coen brothers western starring Jeff Bridges faced little or no competition, as many studio holiday entries collapsed. (See TOH's year-end box office wrap.) Anthony D'Alessandro reports:

It was a ghost town at the cinema this weekend. Paramount’s True Grit continued to hang its B.O. high as it crossed the $100-million mark Sunday and pushed Universal’s family laffer Little Fockers to second place  ($13.8 million). Also falling short were two new wide entries, Relativity Media’s Nicolas Cage crusades actioner Season of the Witch ($10.7 million), and  Sony/Screen Gems' women's drama Country Strong ($7.3 million), starring Gwenyth Paltrow.
Overall box office receipts totaled an estimated $114 million, off 29% from the same frame year ago when Avatar continued to be a phenomenon, grossing $50 million for the weekend.

The post-New Year’s frame is often slow, but distributors only have themselves to blame. Moviegoing is a 52 week a year biz, and studios can book a commercial film anywhere on the schedule and do business. Last year at this time, four other films behind Avatar made $11 million-plus. True, Avatar is a box-office anomaly. But radiant four-quadrant films in the market spread the B.O. wealth for all players.
The lack of competition helped spur True Grit to $15 million in gold nuggets. Who knew that cowboy Jeff Bridges would give Tron's cyber Jeff Bridges a run for his money? True Grit is in rare company: its the eighth oater to cross the $100-million mark--after Dances With Wolves ($184.2 million), City Slickers ($123.8 million), Blazing Saddles ($119.5 million), Wild Wild West ($113.8 million), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ($102.1 million), Marverick ($101.6 million) and Unforgiven ($101.2 million).  Like musicals, westerns are often considered a bastard genre among feature development execs.  But as True Grit and No Country for Old Men have thrown open the doors, oaters don't have to be a risky venture. It's the story, stupid. All the more reason why Clint Eastwood should devote himself to one more western and why HBO should pony up dollars to David Milch for a Deadwood theatrical feature.
Relativity Media’s Season of the Witch turned out to be a genre pleaser for older guys (52% men, 61% over 25).  The distributor began spreading the word on this film with a London junket early last month and effectively plugged the right web routes to reach its male demo. Going in, the film’s $40-million budget was covered by foreign pre-sales. Season hit a large Hispanic demo (36%). Season is one of Cage’s many low-budget genre films such as Wicker Man ($23.6 million) and Lord of War ($24 million), which don't gross as much as his Bruckheimer titles. The over-exposed Cage ate dirt this summer stateside with Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice ($63.2 million), a mismatch between star and zany property. Expect more blue-collar actioners from Cage: Summit’s Drive Angry 3D on February 25 and a sequel to Marvel’s Ghost Rider next year.  Overall Cinemascore for Season was a C+ with critics casting their share of voodoo on the film with a 4% rotten rating.
Sony started to push Country Strong during the late summer by dropping movie singles on its RCA Nashville label: Sara Evan’s “A Little Bit Stronger” and Paltrow’s “Country Strong.” Given how fickle country music fans can be, particularly when a Hollywood outsider enters their domain, Sony met them head on by booking Paltrow to sing at the November 10th Country Music Awards, an effective PR stunt. Paltrow also earned upbeat reviews from guest-starring on Fox’s Glee. Critics had assailed her last performance at the mike in her father Bruce Paltrow’s karaoke film Duets ($4.7 million), so Paltrow needed to dust such memories away. As it went wide after a limited run, Country Strong scored 17% on the Tomatometer, but earned a B Cinemascore, B+ among its female attendees (73%) who were 49% under 30. 

Here's the Box Office Top Ten:

1. True Grit (Paramount/Skydance): $15 million down 39% in its third weekend at 3,124 theaters.  $4,802 theater average. Domestic total: $110.4 million.
2. Little Fockers (Universal/Par-Relatvity Media): $13.8 million down 46% in its third weekend at 3,675 theaters.  $3,750 theater average. Domestic total: $124 million.
3. Season of the Witch (Relativity Media): $10.7 million in its first weekend at 2,816 theaters.  $3,809 theater average. Domestic total: $10.7 million.
4. Tron: Legacy (Disney): $9.8 million down 48% in its fourth weekend at 3,013 theaters.  $3,254 theater average. Domestic total: $147.9 million.
5. Black Swan (Fox Searchlight): $8.35 million down 6 % in its sixth weekend at 1,584 theaters.  $5,271 theater average. Domestic total: $61.5 million.
6. Country Strong (Sony/Screen Gems): $7.3 million up 17,488% in its third weekend at 1,424 theaters.  $5,126 theater average. Domestic total: $7.44 million.
7. The Fighter (Paramount): $7 million down 30% in its sixth weekend at 2,528 theaters.  $2,769 theater average.  Domestic total: $57.8 million.
8. The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co.): $6.811 million down 12% in its seventh weekend at 758 theaters.  $8,986 theater average.  Domestic total: $33.3 million.
9. Yogi Bear (Warner Bros.): $6.810 million down 45% in its fourth weekend at 3,288 theaters.  $2,071 theater average. Domestic total: $75.6 million.
10. Tangled (Disney): $5.2 million down 47% in its seventh weekend at 2,383 theaters.  $2,182 theater average. Domestic total: $175.9 million.


  • Andrew | January 9, 2011 9:42 AMReply

    Always love your insightful box office commentary, Anthony, but not sure about using the term "oater." It was a strained synonym for "Western" even on the pages of Variety back in the days when there were enough examples of the genre to require a synonym.

  • Anthony | January 9, 2011 8:05 AMReply

    Bill, had Deadwood continued, there would have been a fourth chapter about how the Camp burned down w/an epilogue on the characters' afterlives.

  • Bill | January 9, 2011 6:51 AMReply

    1) I thought Deadwood was perfectly realized in its HBO incarnation; there's no need for a feature.
    2) Nic Cage is a gonzo actor, most entertaining in his varied roles. He was hilarious in Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, a clever satire on police procedurals.
    3) Yes, Clint Eastwood should do another western. How about a remake of The Shootist?

    Happy New Year!

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