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Box office has year-end glow

'Avatar,' 'Toy Story' help 2010 stack up well

With no “Avatar” to provide a higher-than-usual New Year’s bump, B.O. observers aren’t breaking out the bubbly just yet, with final numbers for 2010 expected to close just down from last year and only holdovers propping up the last weekend of the year.

But that’s not necessarily bad news, considering 2009 was a benchmark year.

This year’s top release, “Toy Story 3,” with $415 million domestically, still couldn’t catch “Avatar” leftovers — the 3D behemoth grossed a colossal $477 million of its total $761 million domestic take in 2010. “Avatar” kept this year’s B.O. totals afloat compared to 2009, though titles including “Toy 3” and “Alice in Wonderland,” both from Disney, and franchise offerings such as Paramount’s “Iron Man 2” and Summit’s “Eclipse” also helped keep the year on a nearly even keel with 2009.

Meanwhile, toon powerhouses “Despicable Me,” “Shrek Forever After” and “How to Train Your Dragon” displayed shapely legs, while most specialty titles didn’t hit their stride until year’s end.

The holiday sesh should see steady traffic for holdovers (if the weather cooperates), including Universal’s “Little Fockers” and Paramount’s “True Grit” entering their soph seshes, and Disney’s “Tron: Legacy” in its third week.

Specialty pair “Blue Valentine” and “Another Year” bowed limited on Wednesday, marking the last crop of 2010 specialty pics to hit multiplexes. Weinstein Co.’s Ryan Gosling-Michelle Williams topliner “Blue Valentine,” which went out with its revised R rating, launched at four locations, while Sony Pictures Classics rolled out Brit helmer Mike Leigh’s latest at six Stateside engagements.

Plenty of local holidays and tykes on vacation also means good news for holdovers overseas.

Last weekend, “Little Fockers” and “Tron” played neck-and-neck, both grossing approximately $27 million internationally. 3D family pic “Gulliver’s Travels,” from 20th Century Fox, expands Friday to the U.K., hoping to build momentum after debuting with $12 million in the U.S. last weekend.

So far domestically, “Little Fockers” has raked in top coin midweek, with “Tron” and “True Grit” posting slightly less. The trio’s weekday perfs should transfer through the weekend, though “True Grit” may see a slight edge over “Tron,” with glowing reviews and positive audience reactions after last weekend’s bow.

As of Dec. 28, “Tron” crossed the $100 million mark, while “Little Fockers” reached $61 million and “True Grit,” nearly $50 million domestically.

Disney’s “Tangled” stretched its legs leading up to the Christmas sesh, with Disney distribution execs expecting the film to reach north of $175 million in U.S. totals. Toon has cumed $150 million.

Another family film to improve in holdover frames was Fox’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which dropped just 23% in its third outing. And while the pic ultimately will fall short of its predecessors’ domestic takes of $141 million (“Prince Caspian”) and $291 million (“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”), “Dawn Treader” — at nearly half the cost of “Prince Caspian” — has earned high marks overseas, grossing to date $166 million for a worldwide haul of $236 million.

Fox Searchlight’s “Black Swan” and Weinstein’s “The King’s Speech” have held their own among more commerical titles, thanks in part to awards noms and terrific word of mouth. “The King’s Speech” started limited before expanding to 700 locations over Christmas, while Searchlight was more aggressive with “Black Swan,” further broadening the pic this weekend to 1,500. “The King’s Speech” has cumed $11.6 million; “Black Swan,” $33.6 million.

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