New Year's is a time to toast hopes for what is coming and sift through the ashes of what has past. In Hollywood, where the most cherished year-end gift is a boffo movie, 2010 can be waved goodbye with a shrug.
With no mainstream films opening this past week, the three big pre-Christmas releases Little Fockers, True Grit and TRON: Legacy again finished in the top slots at the North American box office, according to early studio estimates. But none had anywhere near the impact of 2009's Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and, of course, Avatar, each of which eventually accumulated more than $200 million in their domestic release. Those three earned $140 million on their New Year's weekend. The current trio will take in less than half that amount.
Early studio estimates have the multistar family comedy Little Fockers earning $26.3 million, with $24.5 million for True Grit. However, Joel and Ethan Coen's western did beat Little Fockers on New Year's Eve, which may say less about the film's appeal than about the social status of the Coen brothers' fans; only the lonely would think that seeing a movie about three strangers on a manhunt would be a cheerful way to ring in the New Year. But Grit has to be considered a success: made for a thrifty $38 million, it has amassed $86.8 million in less than two weeks to become the Coens' highest-grossing film to date, topping No Country for Old Men's $74.2 million.
TRON: Legacy, the sequel to the pioneering video-game fantasy, earned $18.3 million, and has now passed the $130 million domestic mark. Sounds fine, but when you consider that its $170 million budget was 10 times what the first TRON cost, and that that film earned $33 million back in 1982, you realize that Legacy would have to earn more than $300 million in North American theaters to equal its predecessor. The sci-fi adventure probably has the best shot of any recent film at becoming a full-fledged Christmas-release hit. But if none of the top three releases hit the $176.6 million mark, which The Karate Kid, the film that's No. 10 on the list of 2010's biggest domestic hits, reached this past summer or to be more realistic, the $200 million or so that the Disney animated feature Tangled should ultimately corral then it will be the first time since 1999 when no December release was one of the year's top 10 earners.
The year-end calamities include Jack Black's Gulliver's Travels, with its Lilliputian earnings of $27.2 million in nine days, and the even more meager $25.1 million take of the James L. Brooks comedy How Do You Know, which sank with Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson and Jack Nicholson and a $120 million budget. The $100 million would-be caper The Tourist couldn't parlay the star team of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie into earnings of more than $55 million in four weeks. If adults wanted a laugh and a thrill at the movies this season, they took their kids to Tangled, Yogi Bear or the third chapter of the Chronicles of Narnia series, or left the little ones home and saw Little Fockers.
Specialty films picked up the slack; December was a hefty month for indie-minded pics with dreams of Oscar. The Fighter, Black Swan and The King's Speech all landed in the top 10 this week. The Weinstein Company's Blue Valentine, which won a tangle with the MPAA ratings board and got its original NC-17 rating sanitized into an R, opened with a sexy $180,000 at four theaters, and the Mike Leigh family-and-friends drama Another Year boasted $120,000 on six screens. Those are minute numbers, compared with Little Fockers and TRON: Legacy, but these films are aiming to earn Academy Award nominations for their actors, and a healthy gross at a few theaters is the best harbinger of Oscar.
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Little Fockers, $26.3 million; $103.2 million, second week
2. True Grit, $24.5 million; $86.8 million, second week
3. TRON: Legacy, $18.3 million; $130.9 million, third week
4. Yogi Bear, $13 million; $66.1 million, third week
5. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, $10.5 million; $87.1 million, fourth week
6. Tangled, $10 million; $168 million, sixth week
7. The Fighter, $10 million; $46.4 million, fourth week
8. Gulliver's Travels, $9.1 million; $27.2 million, second week
9. Black Swan, $8.45 million; $47.4 million, fifth week
10. The King's Speech, $7.6 million; $22.8 million, sixth week