11th-hour box office rally can't catch 2009 figures

A few star players like “True Grit” and “Tangled” are continuing to deliver holiday cheer, but the last few weeks of 2010 were lackluster overall, with high-profile tentpoles including “Tron: Legacy” and “Little Fockers” not playing quite as broadly as expected.

The New Year’s weekend, which typically sees more traffic at the multiplexes, was down 29% from 2009, lacking an “Avatar” to boost sales. The weekend’s B.O. won’t be enough to lift totals above the previous year, with 2010 looking to be down less than 1% from 2009. Studios will report final tallies for 2010 today.

Still, the holiday sesh was comparable with the same period in 2008, when “Marley and Me” topped the B.O. with $24.3 million.

“Little Fockers” and “True Grit” went head-to-head in their second outings, with Universal’s “Fockers” taking a slight edge to win the weekend with an estimated $26.3 million at 3,554 locations, while Paramount’s “True Grit” scored $24.5 million from 3,083.

Par’s “True Grit” has displayed sturdy legs domestically through the holiday, benefiting mostly from positive reviews and strong word-of-mouth. Pic has cumed a terrific $86.8 million to become the highest-grossing film for helmers Joel and Ethan Coen, beating 2007′s “No Country for Old Men,” with $74.2 million.

Two indie pics launched midweek: Mike Leigh’s “Another Year” and “Blue Valentine,” both of which had solid showings, with the latter averaging an estimated $45,017 from four locations and five-day totals of $277,945 for Weinstein Co. “Another Year,” from Sony Pictures Classics, estimated a $20,065 per-screen average at six engagements, with $173,175 for the five days.

Overseas moviegoing was in top form during the holiday as several titles, including “Tron” and 20th Century Fox’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” posted solid holdover figures.

Fox estimated $21 million for “Dawn Treader” (down just 8% from the Christmas frame), with the film playing in 68 markets for a total $210 million, while “Tron” came in with slightly more, estimating $23.7 million, off 26%, from 40 territories and an overseas cume of $110 million. Both pics’ worldwide tallies of $297 million and $241 million, respectively, compensate for softer-than-expected domestic cumes.

Also performing well during the holiday sesh, Disney’s 3D toon “Tangled,” has cumed an estimated $168 million so far, with this weekend’s perf contributing $10 million at 2,582 engagements.

Fox Searchlight’s “Black Swan” and the Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech” rounded out the Top 10. “Black Swan,” which estimated $8.5 million, has cumed $47.4 million — the best 2010 specialty perf — while “The King’s Speech” added $7.6 million to its domestic take to date of $22.8 million.

Even without the “Avatar” factor, bizzers point out that last year “Sherlock Holmes” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” outperformed such comparable titles in 2010 as “Tron” and “Yogi Bear.”

Disney had hoped “Tron” would become an all-audience film like “Sherlock,” but the pic struggled to reach beyond its core fanboy aud, grossing a respectable, but not stellar, $131 million domestically, including $29.5 million from Imax. Warner Bros.’ “Yogi Bear,” with $66 million, didn’t capitalize on nostalgia for its original property the way “Alvin” did, though that pic was a sequel.

After last weekend’s East Coast blizzards affected overall B.O. totals, most pics saw massive improvements this weekend, added to increased New Year’s business and a weaker than usual Christmas frame.

“The King’s Speech” saw the frame’s largest uptick (70%) — a huge improvement given that Weinstein didn’t add any locations. Warners’ “Yogi Bear” also improved in its third frame, up 66% with an estimated $13 million, while “Tangled” was up 56%.

“True Grit” stayed relatively even with the pic’s top-notch perf last weekend, while “Fockers” was up 15% over its just-OK Christmas start.

U distribution execs expect “Fockers” to reach around $300 million worldwide, with global figures to date at $172.5 million. “Fockers” was budgeted at approximately $100 million, meaning with total marketing costs added in, U’s global projection should make the pic profitable. “Fockers,” however, would rank drastically below the franchise’s second installment “Meet the Fockers,” with $512 million worldwide, and in line with original “Meet the Parents.”

Nikki Rocco, U prexy of domestic distribution, noted “Fockers” did expand to a slightly larger moviegoing base over the holiday sesh. Pic had a nice Friday-Saturday jump, up 46%. “We all have big smiles on our faces,” Rocco said.

Par’s “True Grit” started the weekend on top, but saw a smaller uptick on Saturday, improving by 21%. Par vice chairman Rob Moore pointed to both “True Grit” and “The Fighter,” as evidence of well-received pics performing tops among adult audiences. Relativity Media fully financed and produced “The Fighter,” which cost $25 million and has made an estimated $46.4 million domestically.

“We always talk about why certain genres are working or not working,” Moore said. “But most often it’s simply about whether a movie is good.”

Already with a handful of awards noms for both “True Grit” and “The Fighter,” Moore admitted the latter likely would see the biggest B.O. boost throughout the next months since “True Grit” has more commercial appeal. Other specialty titles like “Black Swan” and “The King’s Speech” also should benefit from awards season B.O. lifts as they enter auds’ radar.

Weinstein’s “Blue Valentine,” which went out with a revised R rating, may see similar results when it begins expanding Stateside. Pic is set to screen in the top 10 U.S. markets (approximately 25 locations) starting this week.

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