This Week in Movies By Pete Hammond

By Pete Hammond With record breaking winter blizzards blanketing the east coast and Christmas Eve falling on a normally movie-centric Friday the movie industry has a lot of decent excuses for business dropping a whopping 45% from last year’s penultimate yuletide weekend. Add in the fact that Xmas 2009 had the advantage of sporting ‘Avatar,’ a genuine blockbuster that eventually would become the biggest grossing movie of all time and you can understand why this year seemed to have more coal in its stocking than usual. Still Santa gave some major studios nothing to write home about and audiences who did venture out to the multi-plex weren’t doing backflips over what they were seeing, at least according to the all-knowing Cinemascore graded ratings. For 20th Century Fox it wasn’t so much a white , but rather a blue ( or should I say bleeding red) Christmas with the December 25th Saturday release of what was supposed to be a big fat family hit, Gulliver’s Travels , a contemporary comedic take on the legendary tale starring Jack Black. The studio, like the audience, however had bomb-sniffing dogs out on this one as it grossed only an estimated $7.2 million over the two weekend days despite higher 3D ticket prices in many locations. Fox sensed this calamity recently and moved its original Dec 22nd release date to Dec 25th even though it would likely be sacrificing surefire coin from kids already out of school for the whole week. Apparently this move was designed to give its other new 3D family film,’ The Chronicles Of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ more play time on those hard-to-come-by 3D screens. Considering Gullivers’ cost of about $115 million we are looking at a final gross even smaller than the Lilliputians who make up most of the cast. Narnia reps something of a bright spot for Fox as it seems to be slowly catching on domestically , dropping only 13% in its third weekend to nearly $11 million and $64 million overall, while cleaning up internationally where so far it has nearly $170 million. The studio’s specialty division also can crow about Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Black Swan’ which with nearly $30 million so far is an unquestioned art house smash.

Moving over to Universal, this is the studio that had an abysmal 2010 with only one real certifiable hit, ‘Despicable Me,’ a couple of other mild performers like ‘Robin Hood’ and a series of bombs. U was counting on their old reliable , the ‘Fockers’ to bail them out. Sure enough this third edition of the Robert DeNiro /Ben Stiller comedy franchise that began at the beginning of the new millennium with ‘Meet The Parents'(2000) and continued four years later with ‘Meet The Fockers'(2004), the second biggest live action comedy box office hit of all time (‘The Hangover’ is first) at $279 in the U.S. and Canada was number one. But depending on whom you believe this version six years later costs anywhere between $100 and $140 million to make (including expensive reshoots involving the addition of Dustin Hoffman who initially had balked at returning and was written out only to be written back in after test screenings). It lead the box office this week with a five day total of $48.3 estimated millions , lower than what was projected to be at least a $60 mil haul for the period. Audiences gave it a B- , not great at all and critics just hated the thing , handing it only a 10% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What the Fock happened?

Warner Bros. only has ‘Yogi Bear’ but that has only made $37 million in 10 days dropping 46% from its first weekend and looking like a big Boo Boo for the studio, especially when compared to the recent template for live action/animation hybrids, Alvin And The Chipmunks which had Fox humming the sounds of the season last year (bet they wish they had it again this year). Disney’s box office leader last week, Tron: Legacy dropped to third and took the biggest percentage dive in the top ten (54%) indicating it still has mountains to climb if its going to appeal beyond its fanboy base. The studio has successfully brought back the animated musical this season though with Tangled which just passed Megamind for top ‘toon honors this fall and only dropped 26% in its 5th weekend. Sony’s The Tourist with Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp is just clinging to its top ten berth in 10th place (above the Weinstein’s impressive specialty hit, The King’s Speech which widened to 700 screens and hit 11th place) while its bomb last weekend, the romantic star-laden comedy, How Do You Know plummeted out the top ten entirely , almost unheard of for this type of big budget , big name (Jack Nicholson, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd) attraction.
So we’ve saved the best for last . True Grit is a True Hit for Paramount as the Coen Brothers of all people ride to the rescue of Hollywood’s dark Christmas weekend and gather a surprising second place finish and $36.8 million for five days and a B+ Cinemascore with an enormous 94% fresh rating at RT. Who would have thought a remake of a 1969 John Wayne western (albeit the one that won him an Oscar) could generate that kind of money against higher profile competition. Who even makes westerns anymore? These two quirky brothers do apparently and it has Paramount jumping for joy. This one will only build. Interestingly the Coens don’t refer to it as a remake at all , saying they went straight to Charles Portis’ original book and skipped the ’69 film. Of course that film was also based on the book and some scenes in the Coens version look pretty close to it, but who is quibbling when it seems audiences looking for something fresh and new have ironically found it in this spruced up, re-imagined Christmas gift from Hollywood’s past.

Pete Hammond

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About Pete Hammond

Pete Hammond is a writer, producer, movie critic and film expert whose commentary on the entertainment industry has appeared in numerous publications and on air interviews including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, OK Magazine, NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Evening News With Brian Williams on MSNBC, the CBC, BBC, Bravo, E!, AMC, Canada AM and the KTLA Morning Show.

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