Season of the Witch Kills Box Office Momentum
By John Hamann
January 9, 2011
Some say the early-year box office is a wasteland, but results from the last few years don't indicate that. Last year, Avatar earned over $50 million at the post-New Year box office, leading the top 12 to about $150 million. In early 2009, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino earned $30 million after expanding to wide release, and two other films debuted to $20 million. In 2008, The Bucket List also expanded, pulling in $20 million. This year, things are different – there is no large expanding release ready to dominate the box office, and the holdovers – True Grit and Little Fockers – are in their third weekends. That leaves us with openers Season of the Witch and Country Strong, two films that aren't generating much excitement.
Our number one film of the weekend is, at long last, True Grit, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Golden Globe nominee Hailee Steinfeld. If estimates hold, the largest grossing Coen Brothers film moves into number one in its third weekend of release. True Grit earned $15 million and was off 39% from its previous frame. The Paramount release has to be considered the big winner of the holiday season – something very few saw coming – as this one cost only $38 million to produce, and crossed the $100 million mark this weekend. True Grit has earned $110.4 million, matching big western totals like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven ($101.2 million domestic) and Richard Donner's Maverick ($101.6 million domestic). Grit still has to chase down 1991's City Slickers ($124 million, but it's arguably a comedy), and Dances With Wolves, which earned $184 million stateside, and another $240 million overseas. At this point, beating the domestic run of City Slickers should be no problem, but something fairly special would have to happen to beat Dances With Wolves.
Moviegoers were actually drawn to quality over the busy season, as the Coen Brothers trademark equals quality, and people responded. Given the superlative reviews Grit has garnered, I am a little surprised it hasn't gotten more awards recognition so far. With Oscar nominations still two more weekends away, it may not get that much of an Oscar bump, but I don't think $150 million is out of the question. True Grit is the biggest release ever for the Coen Brothers following No Country For Old Men ($74.3 million domestic), and gives Jeff Bridges TWO $100 million films released in December.
Second goes to Little Fockers, which steps down from number one after two weekends on top. While it won't be considered a huge failure, Little Fockers has certainly failed to match the success of the earlier films in the series, Meet the Parents ($166.2 million domestic) or the super-sequel, Meet the Fockers ($279.3 million). In its third weekend, Little Fockers brought in $13.8 million and was off a hefty 47%. The third film in the series cost Paramount $100 million to make, and has now brought in $124 million, as well as $75 million from overseas cinemas. Currently, it has a $15 million lead over True Grit for holiday supremacy, but that lead will evaporate as the weekends continue.