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Xmas bows: Audiences rapt?

'Grit,' 'Fockers' open wide Wednesday

Paramount’s “True Grit” saddles up while Universal’s “Little Fockers” adds one more to the series corral, as both open wide today to get a leg up on Christmas, typically a modest period at the box office.

Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox’s 3D family pic “Gulliver’s Travels,” which opens Christmas Day at 2,543 locations, including some 1,000 that are 3D-equipped, was pushed back to avoid the holiday crunch.

Sony/Screen Gems’ “Country Strong” and Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere,” from Focus Features, launch mid-week in limited release. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, “Country Strong” bows at one location each in Nashville and L.A. before expanding Jan. 7; “Somewhere,” with Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning, debuts at seven U.S. engagements.

Of the pics getting an early start, wide releases “True Grit,” at more than 3,000 locations, and “Little Fockers,” at 3,536, should see nice returns on Wednesday and Thursday. Christmas Eve usually sees a sizable slowdown at the box office before the B.O. picks up slightly Christmas Day. “Gulliver’s Travels,” starring Jack Black, enters a crowded family market, with 3D pics like “Yogi Bear” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” also taking up 3D screen space.

According to Fox, “Gulliver’s Travels” screened well for domestic exhibs, though some bizzers say the late move to Saturday could reflect uncertainty about the film. Shift further distances “Gulliver’s” from “Tron: Legacy” and “Yogi Bear,” which have been performing well during mid-weeks.

Disney’s “Tron,” another 3D title, launched worldwide last weekend, including 26 international territories, for a global haul of $67 million. “Tron” expands to mostly smaller markets this weekend, with the exception of Mexico.

“Gulliver’s Travels” opens day and date in Australia, Mexico and Spain, while “Little Fockers” bows in Blighty this weekend.

U has high hopes for “Fockers” over the holidays since it’s the newest comedy to enter the market. Helmed by Paul Weitz, third installment in the Ben Stiller-Robert De Niro franchise reunites thesps Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Owen Wilson, Teri Polo and Blythe Danner. This time around, the laffer centers on the Focker tykes, played by Colin Baiocchi and Daisy Tahan.

Third entry had an estimated budget of $100 million, up from the $80 million “Meet the Fockers” pricetag and the estimated $55 million budget for “Meet the Parents.” “Meet the Fockers” has one of the highest Christmas openings, with five-day totals around $70 million in 2004 and a domestic cume of $279 million. Newest installment is expected to hit about $60 million for the five-day sesh.

Christmas Day is expected to be soft, but B.O. observers predict a healthy Sunday, which could account for 50% of the weekend totals.

Par’s “True Grit,” which is tracking best among adult auds, should land near $20 million for the five days but, like other titles, will gain steam through next week, with many still on vacation. Pic, with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Hailee Steinfeld, could benefit from increased awareness given its recent awards nominations. Fans of directors Joel and Ethan Coen should also head to the multiplexes.

Several specialty titles, including Paramount-Relativity Media’s “The Fighter” and Fox Searchlight’s “Black Swan,” could see holiday presents after gaining steam in limited release. Last weekend, “The Fighter” expanded wide with a take of $12.1 million, while “Black Swan” grossed $8.4 million from 959 runs. “Black Swan” widens on Friday to more than 1,400 locations.

Also expanding, the Weinstein Co.’s “The King’s Speech,” which has grossed $3.1 million, will screen at 700 locations, up from 43. Lionsgate’s Nicole Kidman starrer “Rabbit Hole” will broaden to 34 runs after debuting last weekend with a per-screen average of $10,756 from five engagements.

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