Weekend Box Office (December 24 - 26, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND With studios dropping lumps of coal into North American multiplexes, many moviegoers stayed away over the Christmas holiday weekend as the box office fell sharply from recent years. Christmas Eve fell on a Friday helping to disrupt business, but a lack of exciting product prevented any one film from becoming a sensation.

Universal saved itself from ending the year with only one number one hit with the comedy sequel Little Fockers which topped the yuletide frame with $30.8M from Friday-to-Sunday, according to final studio figures. The critically panned pic grabbed $45.1M since its Wednesday debut and joined Despicable Me as the studio's only releases in 2010 to open in the top spot. Fockers averaged $8,720 from 3,536 theaters over the weekend period.

Though claiming the box office crown, the Robert De Niro-Ben Stiller threequel attracted the worst reviews of the series and opened 36% below the $70.5M five-day Christmas launch of 2004's Meet the Fockers during the exact same days. Factor in rising ticket prices and a whopping 48% fewer people turned out for the latest installment.

With a $100M budget - hefty for a non-effects comedy - the new Fockers succeeded in funneling large paychecks to its principal cast members. Studio research showed that the audience was 57% female and 53% over 30. A poor B- CinemaScore grade indicates bad buzz in the days ahead from those who bought tickets already.

The Coen brothers gave Paramount a Christmas gift with the better-than-expected showing for True Grit which opened to $24.9M over the weekend and $36.1M across the five days since its Wednesday launch. Loved by critics, the PG-13 Western remake starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon averaged a sturdy $8,156 from 3,047 locations over the weekend which was especially impressive given the Friday hit all films took on Christmas Eve when many theaters close early. The lucrative holiday week ahead could help it make a run for the $100M club. Produced for only $38M, Grit should become a moneymaker despite how it fares overseas in the new year.

Bridges showed up in the number three position as well. Disney's pricey action film TRON: Legacy ranked third for the holiday frame with $19.2M falling a steep 57% from its top spot debut. The PG-rated effects pic has grossed $87.4M in ten days and will break nine digits before the end of the year on its way to possibly breaking $150M from North America as well.

Enjoying the smallest drop of any film in wide release, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader collected $9.5M representing a slim 24% dip. But Fox's 17-day cume for the big-budget 3D adventure rose to just $62.6M which was still below the $65.6M opening weekend of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from December 2005.

Family audiences rejected the 3D kidpic Yogi Bear which was hoping for a strong Christmas hold but instead suffered a 52% fall to $7.8M. With just $35.8M in ten days, the PG-rated pic will struggle to break even given the production cost and marketing expenses. Like so many others this holiday season, audiences are finding this to be a subpar 3D entry not worth paying extra money for.

Paramount's boxing drama The Fighter held up reasonably well in a crowded marketplace for adult dramas by dipping 37% to $7.6M. With $26.7M so far, the Mark Wahlberg-Christian Bale pic aims to use good word-of-mouth and awards buzz to keep it in the top ten over the weeks to come as the holiday turkeys fizzle away.

Disney's hit toon Tangled followed with $6.4M, off 27%, for a $143.7M tally thus far. The Rapunzel film is now the second highest-grossing film of the holiday season trailing only Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 1 which raised its total to $273M for the number 49 spot on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters.

Setting sail with a lackluster debut was Jack Black's 3D kidpic Gulliver's Travels which opened on Christmas Day Saturday to a weekend take of $6.3M over two days instead of the usual three. Fox hopes to play well through this holiday week and into New Year's weekend, but this PG-rated film is just the latest in a string of subpar family offerings in 3D to be rejected by parents not interested in paying so much money for mediocre quality. While Disney's TRON and Tangled have worked, underwhelming numbers have been seen for Gulliver, Yogi Bear, Narnia, Legend of the Guardians, Alpha and Omega, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, and others. Studios are slowly learning that there are simply too many 3D movies these days.

Fox Searchlight's awards darling Black Swan dipped 25% to $6.3M for a sturdy cume to date of $28.7M. Expanding from 959 to 1,466 locations in its fourth weekend, the Natalie Portman starrer is on its way to becoming one of the distributor's top-grossing titles ever. Rounding out the top ten was the Johnny Depp-Angelina Jolie dud The Tourist which dropped 37% to $5.4M and a $40.9M cume to date.

The Weinstein Co. enjoyed a good expansion for its awards contender The King's Speech which went nationwide on Saturday into 700 locations and banked $4.5M over the weekend. Averaging a healthy $6,426, the Colin Firth pic has taken in $8.3M overall.

More specialty films got their platform debuts in before the upcoming Oscar deadline. Sofia Coppola's Somewhere bowed to $119,086 from seven sites for a solid $17,012 average over three days for Focus. Sony released its Gwenyth Paltrow pic Country Strong in two theaters with $30,000 over the weekend and a $15,000 average. Totals since their mid-week launches are $173,000 and $43,000 respectively.

The top ten films grossed $124.1M which was down a sharp 51% from last year when Avatar stayed in the top spot with $75.6M; and down 27% from 2008 when Marley & Me opened at number one with $36.4M. Christmas Eve did not fall on the weekend during either of those two years.

Compared to projections, Little Fockers opened close to my $34M Friday-to-Sunday forecast while True Grit exceeded my $17M prediction. Gulliver's Travels opened below my two-day projection of $11M.

Check the UPDATED box office charts for the Top December Openings and Golden Globe nominee grosses.

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

For a NEW review of True Grit visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Wednesday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend which sees the kickoff of 2011.

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

# Title Dec 24 - 26 Dec 17 - 19 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Little Fockers $ 30,833,665 3,536 1 $ 8,720 $ 45,083,800 Universal
2 True Grit 24,830,443 3,047 1 8,149 36,041,062 Paramount
3 TRON: Legacy 19,151,498 44,026,211 -56.5 3,451 2 5,550 87,373,703 Buena Vista
4 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage... 9,478,043 12,388,662 -23.5 3,350 3 2,829 62,597,030 Fox
5 Yogi Bear 7,897,342 16,411,322 -51.9 3,515 2 2,247 35,912,181 Warner Bros.
6 The Fighter 7,580,116 12,135,468 -37.5 2,511 3 3,019 26,659,714 Paramount
7 Tangled 6,427,816 8,775,344 -26.8 2,582 5 2,489 143,695,323 Buena Vista
8 Gulliver's Travels 6,307,691 2,546 1 2,477 6,307,691 Fox
9 Black Swan 6,254,986 8,383,479 -25.4 1,466 4 4,267 28,689,060 Fox Searchlight
10 The Tourist 5,371,896 8,522,287 -37.0 2,756 3 1,949 40,850,340 Sony
11 The King's Speech 4,484,352 1,097,131 308.7 700 5 6,406 8,329,735 Weinstein Co.
12 How Do You Know 3,548,965 7,484,696 -52.6 2,483 2 1,429 15,001,587 Sony
13 Harry Potter/Deathly Hallows Part 1 3,176,348 5,022,361 -36.8 1,732 6 1,834 272,994,635 Warner Bros.
14 Tees Maar Khan 539,793 108 1 4,998 741,162 UTV
15 Due Date 378,227 1,262,257 -70.0 404 8 936 98,320,569 Warner Bros.
16 Megamind 356,859 690,573 -48.3 764 8 467 142,686,358 Paramount
17 Burlesque 338,101 1,425,855 -76.3 330 5 1,025 36,738,508 Sony
18 Unstoppable 329,895 1,843,696 -82.1 393 7 839 78,511,859 Fox
19 The Social Network 281,088 282,025 -0.3 249 13 1,129 92,338,827 Sony
20 Red 197,833 336,572 -41.2 330 11 599 88,891,553 Summit
Top 5 $ 92,190,991 $ 93,737,007 -1.6
Top 10 124,133,496 124,993,526 -0.7
Top 20 137,764,957 132,409,784 4.0
Top 20 vs. Xmas 2009 137,764,957 266,363,480 -48.3

2-day grosses in italics

Last Updated: December 27, 2010 at 10:00PM ET

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