The Twelve Days of Box Office
By David Mumpower
December 30, 2010

It's difficult watching two people we love sell out so shamelessly like this.

We will be a bit more conventional in today's daily box office analysis. As we approach the finish line of the most lucrative period on the movie calendar, this is a good time to step back and look at how each movie is doing. In other words, today's column will not be math intensive. You're welcome.

Last week's debut of Little Fockers brought a conversation about how it should compare to Meet the Fockers. As I stated at the time, no one involved with this production ever expected it to match/exceed the performance of its immediate predecessor. Unreasonable expectations are the fatal flaw of movie productions. What I said last week is that Little Fockers should aim for roughly two thirds of the pace of Meet the Fockers. The 2004 release was sitting at $108.5 million after eight days in theaters. Little Fockers is at $69.0 million, meaning its current box office is pacing at 63% of Meet the Fockers. And yes, I still get a bit aggravated each and every time I have to type Fockers. It's my problem and I'll deal with it. Refocusing on the issue at hand, if the current pace of Little Fockers holds, it will wind up with approximately $175 million. Even if it falls $10-15 million short of that, we are still talking about a productive sequel performance for a title with a $100 million production budget. This is a clear win for Universal.

I have tried not to repeat myself each time I have mentioned True Grit. This is difficult to do. As previously mentioned, for all of the lavish praise heaped on the collective works of the Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel have never been significant box office draws. To wit, True Grit became their third most lucrative performer by the middle of its sixth day in theaters. With the updated running total of $56.4 million, it is poised to pass Burn After Reading's $60.4 million domestic tally by the close of business today. The eventual surpassing of No Country for Old Men's $74.3 million is not only a foregone conclusion but in fact one that is a matter of 72-96 hours away. This should happen on New Year's Day, January 2nd at the latest. We are talking about a scalding box office performance for a movie currently picking up rather than losing steam. Awards performers can be tricky to anticipate in terms of overall behavior. I say with some degree of confidence that True Grit will eventually match the combined box office of the Coens' two previous box office winners, $135 million. The odds are better that it does much more than that rather than that it dies off quickly once we enter 2011 as most holiday releases do. The buzz is so strong that I believe this one to be relatively bulletproof.

I discussed Tron: Legacy and Yogi Bear at some length in yesterday's column and the situation for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is the same as it was on Tuesday. Let's instead focus on the rest of the top 10 beginning with Tangled. When that movie was released at Thanksgiving, I made the criminal mistake of talking Reagen Sulewski down from the ledge when he told me that he believed this one would break out. Having carefully considered the recent track record of non-Pixar animated titles from Disney, I maintained that he was off his rocker. He was right and I was wrong and I want to apologize to him for calling this one perfectly yet taking the hit for my grotesque error in judgment.

Tangled has become the little film that could, one that we used as a baseline for our December holiday box office conversations in Monday Morning Quarterback. as we talked about all of the non-Potter films and how they should perform, a uniform opinion from the site was that Tron: Legacy and Little Fockers would battle it out for the best performance of the holiday season. Instead, Tangled appears likely to beat out at least Little Fockers if not Tron: Legacy as well. Given the relatively unheralded nature of what had been a troubled production, I am flabbergasted to see it sitting at $154.3 million while also performing brilliantly in terms of holiday toy sales. That chick's hair may as well be made of pure gold.

The anti-Tangled in terms of reviews, audience reception and box office -- you know, everything that matters about a feature -- is Gulliver's Travels. Let's get right to the point here. This movie cost $112 million to create. It has a running box office total of $15.1 million after five of the most lucrative movie money-making days on the calendar. If it makes another $12 million or so between now and Sunday, a reasonable estimate, we would almost definitely be looking at final box office of under $50 million. And that estimate is me trying to give it the benefit of the doubt on legs.

I mentioned this once before, but I will say it again because the idea makes me laugh every time I think about it. When Survivor had that awkward tie-in of a Gulliver's Travel screening as a reward challenge prize, what happened was inimitable. Here were people who had not see a television in over a month. They had been staring at sand, trees and water, bored out of their brains. A movie...ANY MOVIE...should have been received like it was the new Casablanca. Despite this, the way the contestants behaved was indicative of the fact that they secretly resented the people who got to stay back at camp and not watch the movie. It was the show's first reward punishment. People on a deserted island would have rather not watched anything than suffer through Jack Black's latest work. That was the tell-tale sign that there was no good news in the offing for Gulliver's Travels.

Due to the holiday, tomorrow's column will be brief. While the twelve days of lucrative box office period ends at the close of business on Sunday since vacation time will be over for most North Americans, I will write one more recap column next week. We will also start the Top 12 Film Industry Stories as well. So, you have positive reinforcement to keep checking back next week even if early January's movie titles look...Gulliver's Travels-ish.