Movie projector: ‘Little Fockers’ to top Christmas weekend; ‘True Grit’ looking strong; ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ will struggle

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The Christmas weekend box office will be led by ‘Little Fockers,’ but Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller’s dysfunctional family won’t be as dominant as previously expected.

The star-laden and pricey comedy, which is being distributed domestically by Universal Pictures, opened Wednesday with $7.2 million in ticket sales. While it was strong enough to be No. 1, it was far behind the opening of ‘Meet the Fockers.’ That second film in the series sold $12.1 million in tickets when it debuted on the same December date six years ago.


People who have seen pre-release audience surveys had expected ‘Fockers’ to take in about $60 million worth of tickets sales by Sunday. After Wednesday’s weaker-than-expected showing, however, it now appears likely to gross closer to $50 million.

One reason it fell short could be strong competition. The Coen brothers-directed western ‘True Grit’ also opened Wednesday and sold $5.5 million worth of tickets, a strong start for the quirky directors who have had only a few breakout hits such as 2007’s Oscar-winner ‘No Country for Old Men.’ It now appears that Paramount Pictures’ well-reviewed ‘Grit,’ which stars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, should take in between $25 million and $30 million by Sunday.

The only other new movie opening nationwide this weekend is the Jack Black comedy ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’ 20th Century Fox’s 3-D adaptation of the classic Jonathan Swift tale debuts on Saturday, Christmas Day, and will likely take in a little less than $10 million for the two-day weekend, as it appears to be generating soft pre-release interest.

Movie attendance is traditionally very light on Christmas Eve -- which is why ‘Gulliver’s’ opens on Saturday -- but Christmas has become a lucrative day for the industry in recent years. Because many people are off of school and work between Christmas and New Year’s Day, whichever films do best over the weekend should rake in more during the following week.

With its cadre of big-name stars that include De Niro, Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Owen Wilson and Jessica Alba, ‘Little Fockers’ is a high-stakes film for Universal and financing partners Paramount Pictures and Relativity Media, which each covered one-third of the budget. Three people close to the picture said it cost between $130 million and $140 million to produce, though a Universal spokeswoman said the cost was about $100 million.

The large investment could pay off if ‘Little Fockers’ does close to, or as well as, its predecessor. ‘Meet the Fockers’ was a hit for families with children old enough to see the PG-13 high jinks and grossed $279.3 million domestically and $237.4 million overseas. Paramount opens the film in most overseas markets this weekend.

After the so-so start on Wednesday, however, it remains to be seen whether ‘Little Fockers’ will be the choice for families over the holidays. Besides ‘True Grit,’ Walt Disney Studio’s ‘Tron: Legacy’ was also nipping at the heels of ‘Fockers.’ It collected $5.6 million Wednesday, bringing its total since last Friday to $62.1 million. After a good but not great opening driven largely by fanboys, Disney is hoping the audience for ‘Tron’ expands to families.

If word of mouth from opening-day crowds at ‘True Grit’ are as good as reviews have been, Paramount should have a financial winner on its hands. The movie cost only about $35 million to produce.

Fox, meanwhile, will probably have a tough time turning a profit on ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ unless it becomes a big hit overseas. Co-financed with Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film partners at a cost of about $112 million after a 3-D conversion, the PG-rated comedy appears to be low on the list of movie choices for many families.

Fox may do better over Christmas and the following week with its ‘Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.’ It has been a soft but not terrible performer in the U.S. and Canada, with $50.1 million over the past two weeks, but is doing much better overseas. It collected $124.4 million internationally through this past Sunday.

Two specialty films in limited release, the Weinstein Co.'s historical tale ‘The King’s Speech’ and Fox Searchlight’s psychological drama ‘Black Swan’ will significantly expand their presence in theaters this weekend and could compete with ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ on the lower end of the top 10 box office chart.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in ‘Little Fockers.’ Credit: Glen Wilson / Universal Pictures. Middle photo: Jack Black in ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’ Credit: 20th Century Fox. Bottom photo: Ed Lee Corbin in ‘True Grit.’ Credit: Lorey Sebastian / Paramount Pictures.