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‘Fockers’ Soft, ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ Troubled as Xmas Box Office Tumbles Around 45%

Universal family comedy is No. 1, but it finishes the 5-day holiday more than $10M under tracking at $48.3M; Fox’s Jack Black comedy grosses only $7.2M over two days; Coen Bros.’ ”True Grit“ has strong $36.8M 5-day start

It was the good, the not great … and the ugly at the domestic box office.

We'll start with the not great.

With the overall North American market down around 45 percent from the same "Avatar"-led weekend last year, Universal comedy-franchise installment "Little Fockers" led the box office, grossing $48.3 million from Wednesday through Sunday and $34 million from Friday to Sunday, according to studio estimates.

The Ben Stiller/Robert DeNiro franchise undershot tracking by more than $10 million, with pre-release expectations coming in at around $60 million. With Christmas Day grosses spiking to $14.6 million from $5.1 million on Friday, however, Universal officials are hopeful for solid play going forward, with moviegoers' Christmas-week distractions out of the way.

"We're optimistic that the jump from Christmas Eve to Christmas is a good indicator of how the coming week will play out," said Universal marketing president Eddie Egan.

Facing a much uglier reality, Fox saw its Jack Black-led comedy "Gulliver's Travels" debut to only $7.2 million after debuting at 2,546 theaters Saturday.

The two-day gross was right around exceedingly dour expectations for the $115 million film, which came into the weekend with some Lilliputian-sized tracking numbers.

The good news, meanwhile, came out of Paramount, where Coen Bros. Western "True Grit" grossed $36.8 million over its first five days, and $25.6 million over the three-day weekend, besting tracking by about $10 million.

It was the biggest start ever for a Coen Bros. movie, besting the $19.1 million premiere in 2008 for "Burn After Reading."

Here's how the top 10 at the box office shaped up over the three-day weekend:

"Little Fockers" ($34.0m)
"True Grit" ($25.6m)
"Tron" ($20.1m)
"Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader" ($10.8m)
"Yogi Bear" ($8.8m)
"The Fighter" ($8.5m)
"Gulliver's Travels" ($7.2m)
"Tangled" ($6.5m)
"Black Swan" ($6.6m)
"The Tourist" ($5.7m)

Finishing third in its second weekend of domestic release, Disney's "Tron Legacy" grossed $20.1 million over the three-day weekend — a week-to-week decline of about 50 percent — bringing its domestic total to $88.3 million. The film cost Disney about $170 million to produce.

"Tron" continued to have a particularly strong run in IMAX theaters, grossing another 6.3 million playing at 301 chain locations globally this weekend. It's grossed $26 million worldwide at IMAX so far.

Disney also saw its 3D-animated "Tangled" continue to hold strong after five weeks in theaters, grossing an estimated $6.5 million over the three-day weekend period and bringing its domestic total to nearly $144 million.

Fox, meanwhile, received good news from the weekend No. 3 performance of "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader," which grossed $10.8 million — an impressive 4 percent week-to-week drop — upping its cumulative domestic gross to nearly $64 million.

In terms of adult dramas, Paramount's "The Fighter" dropped less than 30 percent in its second weekend of wide expansion to $8.5 million over the three-day, while Fox Searchlight's "Black Swan" dropped less than 25 percent to $6.6 million.

Meanwhile, expanding to around 700 theaters on Saturdsay, The Weinstein Company's "The King's Speech" grossed $4.6 million and nearly cracked the top 10.

"We're very happy with these numbers," Weinstein Company COO David Glasser told TheWrap, noting the studio will look to expand the Oscar favorite to 1,200-1,600 North American locations after the first of the year.

Opening Wednesday, Focus' Sofia Coppola-directed "Somewhere" grossed $196,168 over its first five days playing at seven theaters, including a solid $57,000 on Christmas Day.

But the best performance this weekend among adult dramas — nay, among the entire box office — was "True Grit," a loose remake of the 1969 John Wayne Western, this one starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and preternaturally talented young actor Hailee Steinfeld.

Scoring a 94 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a B-plus score from movie customer-satisfaction grader Cinemascore, the film came in with a listed production budget of around $38 million.

"To gross what this picture cost in nearly five days is sensational," said Don Harris, general manager of distribution for Paramount.

Besides having "True Grit" and "The Fighter" playing strong, Paramount — along with Relativity Media — also has a stake in Universal's "Little Fockers."

Budgeted at around $100 million, a domestic start of around $50 million would seem to be a fine, profitable premiere for the PG-13-rated comedy, which opened at 3,536 theaters Wednesday.

Reviews were terrible, with the film scoring an 11 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, but "Fockers'" Cinemascore was a respectable B-minus.

With Universal officials predicting a start in the $60 million range, expectations were probably set too high, one rival-studio executive believes.

"I thought they were out there with a bigger number than they could get to," the executive said.

Fox, meanwhile, never had too many illusions regarding "Gulliver's Travels," which came into the weekend with spongy-soft tracking … and a $115 million production budget that will now be next to impossible to make good on.

Fox chose to debut the movie on Saturday — and the entire box office was also somewhat affected — because Christmas Eve fell on a Friday. That unfortunate calendar dynamic usually puts a damper on the box office, putting most moviegoers at home with their families on one of the most key days of the weekend.

Storms on the East Coast, meanwhile, were also a factor, as they usually are.

But in terms of year-to-year comparisons, however, the fact that "Avatar" ran so strong from Christmas weekend 2009 through last February is going to make things tough for studios and exhibitors for weeks to come.

"The industry is going to be running agains all those weeks of 'Avatar,' and it's going to be hard to compete," said one studio executive.