Box office spirits weren't lifted over Christmas weekend, which marked the seventh down weekend in a row compared to last year. Relatively few joined the Focker family reunion, yet the box office was so tepid that it still drew enough to lead. One bright spot was True Grit (2010), but it's unreasonable to expect a Western to save the collective bacon.
Due to an unappealing slate of movies and, in part, Christmas Eve landing on Friday, overall business was down 48 percent from Christmas weekend last year, which featured a parade of big hits (Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel). The last time Christmas Eve fell on a Friday was in 2004, when Meet the Fockers was on top, and attendance was down considerably from then.
Little Fockers bagged $30.8 million on approximately 5,000 screens at 3,536 locations, bringing it five-day opening to $45.1 million. By comparison, Meet the Fockers made $46.1 million on the same weekend in 2004 for a five-day start of $70.5 million, and it had double the attendance. Little Fockers' also had lower five-day attendance than Meet the Parents (which had no holiday boost). However, it's important to note the difficulty in maintaining momentum for a comedy franchise (third movies usually make less than second ones), especially after a six-year wait. Distributor Universal Pictures' research showed that 57 percent of the audience was female and 53 percent was under 30 years old.
Unfortunately, Little Fockers's marketing showed little reason for people to care after six years. The first Meet the Parents was both big commercially and well-liked. Meet the Fockers capitalized on the first movie's good will and was an organic follow-up: we met the bride's parents in the first, now we meet the groom's in the second. Meet the Fockers, though, wasn't as fondly looked upon by audiences as the first movie. With Little Fockers, the advertising failed to provide a reason for the third movie's existence, and it mucked up the premise: the title suggested the movie's about the children, some ads went on about Robert DeNiro designating Ben Stiller as the new patriarch, there were out-of-the-blue appearances in the cast rundown, etc. Tellingly, many ads started with extended scenes from the first two movies. These ads only served to remind people about how much better Meet the Parents was than Meet the Fockers, which didn't bode well for the third movie by the law of diminishing returns.
Despite the muting effect of Christmas Eve, True Grit posted the top-grossing opening weekend ever for a straight-shooting Western, capturing an estimated $24.9 million on around 3,900 screens at 3,047 locations. It was also the biggest launch of the Coen brothers' careers, passing Burn After Reading. With a $36.1 million tally in five days, it's already the highest-grossing Western since 3:10 to Yuma (2007), which started much lower and earned $53.6 million in total, and its five-day attendance was in line with Unforgiven's. According to distributor Paramount Pictures, 65 percent of True Grit's audience was male and 70 percent was aged 25 years and older.
Unlike Little Fockers, True Grit's marketing campaign clearly presented the movie's Western thriller premise. The trailer even spelled out the movie's entire storyline (aside from the resolution), proving once again that clarity is essential to a commercially successful campaign. Add in the striking imagery, action and appropriate cast (Jeff Bridges, etc.) set to Johnny Cash's rendition of "God's Gonna Cut You Down," top it off with the brand recognition from the famous and well-liked 1969 version of True Grit as well as the Coen bros. (Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men), and one has a hit.
Gulliver's Travels was the other new nationwide release for Christmas, and it opened on Saturday, ranking eighth with $6.3 million in two days at 2,546 locations. While it is uncommon for movies to open on Saturday, there are comps from Christmas 2004 and 1999: Fat Albert grabbed $10 million (or close to $13 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) in its two-day launch in 2004, while Galaxy Quest blasted off with $7 million (or the equivalent of $11 million adjusted) in 1999. Gulliver's Travels was also a far cry from past Christmas comedies Night at the Museum and Bedtime Stories, despite trying to be like them by casting a comedic actor (Jack Black) in a fantastical family comedy. This time, the movie's rote origin rang through in its lackadaisical marketing (for example, the tagline was "Black Is the New Big") that banked on the 3D illusion as a crutch. Gulliver distributor 20th Century Fox's Saturday exit polling indicated that 55 percent of the audience was parents and their children, 53 percent was female and 53 percent under 25 years old. Gulliver's release included 958 locations presenting it in the 3D, and they accounted for 50 percent of the gross.
In third place, Tron Legacy slipped 56 percent to $19.2 million, raising its score to $87.4 million in ten days and surpassing the final sum of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). Given the misfortune of the first Tron and the movie's niche appeal, Legacy has fared relatively well: to expect blockbuster numbers from this property would be absurd.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader held well enough in its third weekend to pull ahead of Yogi Bear's second weekend. Down 23 percent, Voyage enjoyed the smallest decline among nationwide releases, grossing $9.5 million for a $62.6 million tally in 17 days. Yogi Bear, on the other hand, collapsed by 52 percent, picking up an estimated $7.8 million for a $35.8 million sum in ten days.
Retreating 37 percent, The Fighter collected an estimated $7.6 million for a $26.7 million haul in 17 days. Tangled ranked seventh with $6.4 million for a $143.7 million total in 33 days. Black Swan jumped to 1,466 locations (from 959 last weekend) and dipped 25 percent, making $6.25 million for a $28.7 million sum in 24 days.
The King's Speech marched into nationwide release on Saturday (700 locations) and landed in 11th place with $4.5 million for an $8.3 million tally in 31 days. Playing at three and a half times the theaters of The King's Speech, How Do You Know's woes continued, taking a steeper hit than Spanglish in 2004 with even lower grosses. How Do You Know packed an estimated $3.55 million for a $15 million sum in ten days.