Weekend Box Office (January 14 - 17, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Audiences looking for super hero fun powered The Green Hornet to number one over the four-day Martin Luther King holiday frame but the overall marketplace remained sluggish with ticket sales dropping by double digits when compared to each of the last three years. The comedy The Dilemma anchored by a different dynamic duo - Vince Vaughn and Kevin James - debuted in second place with not-so-impressive numbers. Awards contenders rounded out the top five with each posting solid results.

Driving into the number one spot with $40M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday weekend, according to final studio figures, was The Green Hornet starring Seth Rogen as the crime-fighting anti-hero with a supercharged sense of humor. The 3D action flick opened very wide in 3,584 theaters and averaged a commendable $11,164 per site over four days with 3D surcharges helping along the way. The PG-13 pic delivered the second best MLK debut ever trailing the $46.1M four-day tally of Cloverfield from 2008 and edged out the studio's own Paul Blart: Mall Cop which bowed to $39.2M two years ago.

Hornet successfully connected with its target audience of young men. According to studio research, 61% of the crowd was male. Appeal was broad across different age groups with 50% being under 25. Reviews were mixed and the CinemaScore grades were a good B+ overall and an encouraging A- for under 25 patrons.

Hornet's opening was still below the numbers posted by other expensive super hero films released in the early part of the year. 2007's Ghost Rider bowed to $52M over four days while 2003's Daredevil debuted to $45M across four days as well. Both were February titles launched over Presidents Day weekend and had lower ticket prices and no 3D surcharges. However, they also came from the pages of Marvel comic books and had larger built-in audiences. Studios often use the first quarter of the year to launch super hero films that are not strong enough to compete with the big boys of summer.

A whopping 69% of the weekend gross came from 3D screens which were offered in 2,704 playdates including 174 IMAX 3D sites. Outside of TRON: Legacy, there have been no major action movies for teens and young adults to be excited about over the past month so Hornet took advantage of an audience that was underserved. Super hero films usually burn out fast at the box office so Sony is trying to take in as much cash as it can upfront for the pricey movie which carries a production cost of at least $100M. With French director Michel Gondry at the helm and Asian star Jay Chou in the sidekick role, Hornet hopes to earn significant amounts around the world where action movies sell very well.

Vince Vaughn and Kevin James saw a mediocre start to their new comedy The Dilemma which debuted in second with a four-day take of $20.5M from 2,940 theaters for a moderate $6,980 average. The PG-13 film about a man who learns of his best friend's wife's infidelity also starred Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Channing Tatum, and Queen Latifah and was directed by Ron Howard who has been away from the comedy genre for over a decade. Over the Friday-to-Sunday period, Universal's gross was $17.8M. The debut was well below the opening weekend figures of Vaughn's recent efforts like Four Christmases ($31.1M), Couples Retreat ($34.3M), and The Break-Up ($39.2M). It also did not come close to the $32.5M four-day gross of 2004's Along Came Polly starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston which was another relationship comedy launching over MLK weekend.

Budgeted at a hefty $70M with big paychecks for all the actors, Dilemma played as expected to an adult crowd that skewed more towards women. Studio research showed that 60% of the audience was female and 58% was 30 and older. Reviews were bad and moviegoers felt mostly the same way as the CinemaScore grade was a disappointing B. Trailers and TV spots were unfunny leading many fans of the stars to skip this one. Vaughn has been able to sell tickets despite being slammed by critics before, but the magic didn't work this time. Plus an abundance of critically-acclaimed awards contenders playing to adults provided plenty of stronger alternatives.

The hit Western True Grit dropped from the top spot but still held up well slipping to $13.1M over four days boosting the total to $128.3M. Paramount's acclaimed drama has now entered the Top 20 list of 2010's highest-grossing releases and should have much more to collect in the weeks ahead.

Colin Firth's The King's Speech finally expanded into wide national play with its expansion this weekend from 700 to 1,543 locations which resulted in $11.3M over the extended Friday-to-Monday span. Ranking fourth for the frame, the Weinstein Co. release averaged a solid $7,305 in its eighth frame and has banked $46.8M to date. The distributor patiently waited out the holidays and chose Golden Globes weekend to expand fully in hopes of capitalizing on awards buzz. Plus it will be a newer film in many markets when Oscar nominations are announced next week. Another expanding awards contender followed as Black Swan grossed $10.2M over four days with its $8.3M three-day score inching ahead of its Friday-to-Sunday gross from last weekend. Fox Searchlight widened the ballet thriller from 1,584 to 2,328 sites and has taken in an impressive $75M so far.

Universal's comedy threequel Little Fockers took in $8.5M in its fourth round for a $135.6M cume. Holding up well over the school holiday was Yogi Bear which grabbed $7.4M raising the sum for Warner Bros. to $84.2M. The kidpic has now grossed over five times its opening weekend take and may finish just below the $100M mark.The sci-fi reboot TRON: Legacy followed with $7.3M boosting the tally to $158.5M.

Dropping slightly was the acclaimed boxing drama The Fighter with $6.4M giving Paramount $67M thus far. Disney's Tangled charmed up $5.6M and has taken in $182.7M to date. Nicolas Cage's latest action offering Season of the Witch tumbled in its second weekend grossing $5.4M for a 11-day tally of just $18.9M. Luckily for Relativity, the production cost was just $40M. A final domestic gross of about $25M seems likely.

The top ten films grossed $130.3M over four days which was down a sharp 29% from last year when Avatar stayed in the top spot with $54.4M; and also down 29% from 2009 when Paul Blart: Mall Cop opened at number one with $39.2M.

Check the UPDATED box office charts for the Top 2010 Blockbusters and Golden Globe Winners.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter. For a review of The Fighter visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when No Strings Attached opens.

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# Title Jan 14 - 17 Jan 7 - 9 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Green Hornet $ 40,012,543 3,584 1 $ 11,164 $ 40,012,543 Sony
2 The Dilemma 20,521,030 2,940 1 6,980 20,521,030 Universal
3 True Grit 13,127,459 14,605,135 -10.1 3,459 4 3,795 128,339,354 Paramount
4 The King's Speech 11,271,166 6,414,407 75.7 1,543 8 7,305 46,795,025 Weinstein Co.
5 Black Swan 10,151,762 8,113,011 25.1 2,328 7 4,361 75,020,120 Fox Searchlight
6 Little Fockers 8,535,495 13,487,245 -36.7 3,394 4 2,515 135,621,520 Universal
7 Yogi Bear 7,447,344 6,641,250 12.1 2,702 5 2,756 84,197,416 Warner Bros.
8 TRON: Legacy 7,258,954 10,090,002 -28.1 2,439 5 2,976 158,497,550 Buena Vista
9 The Fighter 6,382,097 7,001,504 -8.8 2,414 6 2,644 67,026,761 Paramount
10 Tangled 5,638,656 5,111,098 10.3 2,048 8 2,753 182,666,695 Buena Vista
11 Season of the Witch 5,416,042 10,612,375 -49.0 2,827 2 1,916 18,913,781 Relativity
12 Country Strong 4,381,249 7,326,165 -40.2 1,424 4 3,077 13,986,383 Sony
13 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage... 3,121,186 4,601,403 -32.2 1,704 6 1,832 98,863,922 Fox
14 Gulliver's Travels 3,062,300 4,588,731 -33.3 1,666 4 1,838 38,590,723 Fox
15 The Tourist 1,983,709 3,766,574 -47.3 1,420 6 1,397 64,562,655 Sony
16 Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows Part 1 1,749,077 2,353,398 -25.7 941 9 1,859 290,153,345 Warner Bros.
17 Blue Valentine 1,701,750 704,339 141.6 230 3 7,399 3,160,133 Weinstein Co.
18 Megamind 905,655 274,872 229.5 341 11 2,656 145,660,740 Paramount
19 The Heart Specialist 581,516 422 1 1,378 581,516 Freestyle
20 Yamla Pagla Deewana 563,042 84 1 6,703 563,042 Eros
Top 5 $ 95,083,960 $ 56,907,768 67.1
Top 10 130,346,506 89,402,192 45.8
Top 20 153,812,032 108,854,399 41.3
Top 20 vs. MLK 2010 153,812,032 204,037,141 -24.6

Last Updated: January 18, 2011 at 4:35PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.