Weekend Box Office (January 21 - 23, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Hollywood's current princess Natalie Portman reigned supreme over the North American box office as her new comedy No Strings Attached debuted at number one giving the Black Swan actress two films in the top ten a week after her big Golden Globe win. With no other films opening in wide release, most holdovers fared well with awards contenders enjoying the best legs thanks to strong word-of-mouth and buzz. But overall, the marketplace remained in poor shape falling below last year's levels for the eleventh consecutive weekend.

Audiences came out in healthy numbers for the sex comedy No Strings Attached spending $19.7M on its opening weekend, according to final studio figures, with a $6,512 average from 3,018 theaters. The R-rated film starring Portman and Ashton Kutcher about a couple that tries to have a sex-only relationship played heavily to young adult women. The debut was slightly better than the openings for R-rated non-summer comedies like I Love You, Man ($17.8M) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall ($17.7M) and nearly matched the $20.2M bow of Kutcher's PG-13 summer comedy What Happens in Vegas co-starring Cameron Diaz. That film went on to reach $80.3M. Portman has only opened one other film at number one while in the lead role - V For Vendetta which bowed to $25.6M in March 2006.

According to studio research, women made up a whopping 70% of the audience while 60% were over 25. Critics gave mixed reviews and audiences felt the same as Strings scored a not-so-impressive B CinemaScore grade. Starpower and a lack of exciting films aimed at young women right now helped the top spot performance. Produced for just $25M, the Paramount release may come close to tripling that amount in its final domestic tally. Female-skewing comedies are often programmed into January as an alternative option for older teen girls and young women during a time when the football playoffs are taking lots of men out of the picture. Sunday's games are expected to have a big impact on the multiplexes, especially in the Northeast and Midwest where the four Super Bowl-hopeful teams are from.

Last week's top film The Green Hornet fell to second and experienced a decent hold for the superhero genre falling 47% to $17.7M. Sony has collected $63M in ten days for its Seth Rogen action comedy and may find its way to just over the $100M mark domestically. Overseas, the 3D pic grossed an estimated $18.7M thanks to some new countries opening upping the international take to $37.4M and the global gross to $100.4M.

Universal suffered a larger-than-hoped-for drop for its Vince Vaughn-Kevin James buddy comedy The Dilemma which fell 49% to $9.1M for a ten-day total of $32.7M. Upon opening last weekend to a soft $17.8M, the studio was comparing the Ron Howard-directed film to adult comedies like Something's Gotta Give and As Good As It Gets which had sophomore declines of 29% and 3% respectively. Budgeted at $70M, The Dilemma may end its run with $55-60M.

Awards contenders all hoping for Best Picture nominations on Tuesday from the Academy followed with each showing sturdy legs. The King's Speech, which surprised the industry Saturday by upsetting The Social Network for the prestigious PGA prize, grossed $7.9M. With a slender 15% decline and another frame in the number four slot, the Colin Firth-Geoffrey Rush period drama pushed its cume up to $57.3M and might be able to jump the $100M mark if it can land the wide range of Oscar nods it's expected to get.

The Weinstein Co. reported an aggressive estimate projecting a slim 20% Saturday-to-Sunday drop which ended up being 54%. The royal drama is following a strategy similar to Million Dollar Baby by waiting until later in the race to expand nationally and become a bigger part of the Oscar conversation thus making it a fresher film to vote for over an overexposed front-runner. The King's Speech wants to do to The Social Network what the Clint Eastwood pic did to The Aviator six years ago.

Western powerhouse True Grit placed fifth with $7.3M, off only 33%, upping Paramount's take to $138M. Natalie Portman popped up again with her second film in the top ten with the red hot Black Swan which took in $5.9M in its eighth round. Off just 30%, the Fox Searchlight film has banked $83.3M thus far. Paramount's brother tale The Fighter, which won both supporting acting Golden Globes last weekend, dipped a mere 18% to $4.2M and has punched up a solid $72.7M.

The King's Speech and Black Swan are both on course to join True Grit in the $100M+ club and Fighter could break in too proving that quality adult dramas can sell tons of tickets, especially during awards season. The quartet of acclaimed films has already grossed a combined $354M and will probably reach $475M or more. The combined production costs for the four hits is under $100M. Best Picture nominations will open the doors to more moviegoers curious to see the year's best films so expect these titles to stick around for a while. And with very few exciting new releases scheduled between now and Oscar night, there is plenty of mileage left.

Christmas leftovers rounded out the top ten. Universal's comedy Little Fockers fell 40% to $4.3M raising the cume to $141.1M. Despite today's higher ticket prices, the third pic in the series will end as the lowest-grossing installment finishing below the $166.2M of 2000's Meet the Parents and well below the $279.2M of 2004's Meet the Fockers.

Warner Bros. enjoyed another good hold from Yogi Bear which grossed $3.8M, off 29%, for a $88.6M total. A lack of competing kidpics is helping the 3D pic head towards $100M. TRON: Legacy did well too slipping 36% to $3.6M for an impressive $163.2M to date.

The top ten films grossed $83.4M which was down a troubling 31% from last year when Avatar stayed in the top spot with $34.9M; and down 30% from 2009 when Paul Blart: Mall Cop remained at number one with $21.6M.

Compared to projections, No Strings Attached was on target with my $19M forecast.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Check the UPDATED box office chart for the Top 2010 Blockbusters. For a review of The Fighter visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Monday for final figures and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Rite and The Mechanic both open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Jan 21 - 23 Jan 14 - 16 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 No Strings Attached $ 19,652,921 3,018 1 $ 6,512 $ 19,652,921 Paramount
2 The Green Hornet 17,677,565 33,526,876 -47.3 3,584 2 4,932 63,018,808 Sony
3 The Dilemma 9,108,890 17,816,230 -48.9 2,943 2 3,095 32,746,225 Universal
4 The King's Speech 7,854,910 9,186,203 -14.5 1,680 9 4,676 57,313,881 Weinstein Co.
5 True Grit 7,330,092 11,004,755 -33.4 3,464 5 2,116 137,963,519 Paramount
6 Black Swan 5,869,744 8,342,648 -29.6 2,407 8 2,439 83,250,375 Fox Searchlight
7 Little Fockers 4,320,090 7,194,865 -40.0 2,979 5 1,450 141,111,705 Universal
8 The Fighter 4,164,504 5,101,140 -18.4 2,275 7 1,831 72,680,740 Paramount
9 Yogi Bear 3,819,395 5,365,547 -28.8 2,510 6 1,522 88,649,598 Warner Bros.
10 TRON: Legacy 3,647,121 5,679,858 -35.8 2,018 6 1,807 163,206,611 Buena Vista
11 Tangled 3,081,926 3,983,009 -22.6 1,860 9 1,657 186,356,425 Buena Vista
12 Season of the Witch 2,297,299 4,606,584 -50.1 2,307 3 996 22,189,330 Relativity
13 Country Strong 2,082,688 3,682,375 -43.4 1,441 5 1,445 16,845,052 Sony
14 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage... 1,353,936 2,324,393 -41.8 1,135 7 1,193 100,620,366 Fox
15 The Way Back 1,208,196 678 1 1,782 1,208,196 Newmarket
16 Gulliver's Travels 1,159,012 2,118,591 -45.3 1,100 5 1,054 40,021,613 Fox
17 Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows Part 1 898,271 1,399,204 -35.8 725 10 1,239 291,340,768 Warner Bros.
18 The Tourist 881,114 1,680,709 -47.6 875 7 1,007 65,894,031 Sony
19 Blue Valentine 877,815 1,386,776 -36.7 242 4 3,627 4,460,022 Weinstein Co.
20 The Company Men 647,797 106 1 6,111 690,934 Weinstein Co.
Top 5 $ 61,624,378 $ 79,876,712 -22.9
Top 10 83,445,232 107,824,706 -22.6
Top 20 97,933,286 126,038,464 -22.3
Top 20 vs. 2010 97,933,286 138,996,723 -29.5

Last Updated: January 24, 2011 at 5:35PM ET

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