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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 01/ 3/2011

Three epic fails -- and one win -- from the holiday weekend box office

By Jen Chaney

Yes, Mr. De Niro. We are No. 1 at the box office again. But at what cost? (Glen Wilson/Universal)

The movie business didn't exactly kick off the new year in resoundingly positive fashion. In fact, there was more bad news than good to be gleaned from the latest box office results. And really, what can you expect when the No. 1 film in America -- for two consecutive weeks, mind you -- contains the word "Fockers" in the title?

We run down a list of three key holiday-season box office fails -- and one potentially happy note for the organizers of the Academy Awards -- as well as the list of the top five movies in the country, after the jump.

Fail No. 1: Ticket sales are down. Yes, even with all those 3-D flicks.

At this time last year, "Avatar" was generating major dollars. With no Na'avi, box office business for the New Year's weekend was down 27 percent compared to the same period in 2009, according to Box Office Mojo.

In other news likely to make multiplex owners consider charging even more for extra-large Diet Cokes, USA Today notes that ticket sales for the year that just concluded were at their lowest point in 16 years.

I wonder what's keeping people away from the movies? Hmmm ... could it have anything to do with Fail No. 2?

Fail No. 2: One word -- "Fockers."

"Little Fockers" is the No. 1 movie in the country for the second week in a row. It made $26.3 million, and its revenue total has surpassed $100 million. What part of that signifies failure?

Well, two things. The first: as Box Office Mojo points out, the previous two movies in the "Meet the Parents" franchise reached the $100 million threshold in less time, with double the attendance.

But the second and, to my mind, more important reason the "Fockers" box office win belongs in the epic-fail column is this: even the relatively mild success of "Little Fockers" might be enough to suggest to studio executives that the public craves a fourth installment in this stale Ben Stiller series. So before you decide what to see this weekend, please remember the classic adage: The support of "Fockers" only begets more "Fockers." That's a passage from the Bible, by the way.

Fail No. 3: Family movies.

The holiday season is normally a time when parents give their kids a break from opening gifts and ODing on candy canes by going to the movies together. And based on the fact that four family-friendly titles made it into the box office top 10 this weekend and last, that certainly seems to be the case.

The problem for each of those movies, though, is that not a single one has made back its money yet. "Yogi Bear": Cost $80 million to make, has earned $66.1 million. "Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader": Cost $155 million, earned $87.1 million. "Tangled," the only family release of the season to be greeted primarily with positive reviews: Cost $260 million, earned $168 million. As for "Gulliver's Travels," it's earned $27.2 million, which is presumably way shy of its production costs. (Fox hasn't released a budget number -- always a good sign -- but Box Office Spy estimates it ran between $90 and $110 million.) Surely it's not cheap to turn Jack Black into a giant. And apparently, it's not worth the effort.

And finally, good news for the awards-season crowd.

Providing evidence that perhaps -- perhaps -- the people who watch the Academy Awards this year will actually have some of the nominated films, four of the movies in the box office top 10 fall into the prestigious drama category. And unlike those family flicks mentioned above, every single one of them has more than returned on its investment.

Specifically, I'm speaking of "True Grit" (No. 2, with total revenue so far of $86.8 million, on a budget of $38 million), "The Fighter" (No. 7, with total revenue so far of $46.4 million, on a budget of $25 million), "Black Swan" (No. 9, with total of $47.4 million on a budget of $13 million) and, cracking the top 10 for the first time, "The King's Speech" (No. 10, with a total of $22.8 million on a budget of $15 million).

So in summary, to be financially successful in Hollywood, it helps to make quality films without spending too much money in the process. Wow. Who knew?

And now, without further ado, a rundown of the top five movies at the box office this weekend and what they made over the past couple of days (based on studio estimates), followed by the opportunity to predict next weekend's winner via our weekly, highly scientific poll.

1. "Little Fockers" -- $26.3 million
2. "True Grit" -- 24.5 million
3. "Tron Legacy" -- $18.3 million
4. "Yogi Bear" -- $13 million
5. "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" -- $10.5 million

By Jen Chaney  | January 3, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Movies, Pop Culture  | Tags:  Weekend Box Office  
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Comments

I've gone to fewer movies this year for a handful of reasons, none of which have to do with quality. 1) People are just rude - talking, texting, phones ringing. Who needs it? 2) To avoid the rude people I try to go to matinees. The cost for even matinees is outrageous. 3) Most movie theatres where I live are at the malls. Yuck - hate malls. 4) Netflix is so much better - no rude people, make your own popcorn, and finish the movie when you want.

Posted by: waynewitherell | January 3, 2011 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Yeah...it's both easier and cheaper to just wait for movies to come out on NetFlix or similar services. Now that everyone's got big flatscreens and gaming systems that stream NetFlix, there's no reason to come down to the cinema for an $11 ticket, a $5 bottle of water, and a $7 bag of popcorn. It's much easier to just get a bunch of friends together and watch from home. And let's face it, with few exceptions, most 3-D movies aren't worth it.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 3, 2011 10:01 AM | Report abuse

I third wayne and dkp.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 3, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

It seems counterintuitive that the biggest movies of the season are those that eventually people will be able to enjoy just as much on small screens, via video on demand. I find myself waiting these days to see the smaller movies and going to the block busters that benefit from a big screen when they appear at the multi-plex. Hence, I trekked out to see Tron Legacy, something I doubt I would ever watch VOD. But I did find I could not wait for The King's Speech and True Grit--although I have deferred Black Swan and Blue Valentine until they're available on a small screen near by bedroon--or in my bedroom, depending on how I'm watching.

Posted by: Connected2011 | January 3, 2011 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Really, I don't understand why anyone would go see a movie with Ben Stiller. Or Adam Sandler, or Will Farrell or (sadly...retire, already) Harrison Ford.

Posted by: kstack | January 3, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

The DUMBING DOWN continues at the box office, on NetFlix, and even in CD sales.

There's a money to be made demographic out there and the big fockers in Hollywood know it. KA-CHING!

Posted by: whocares666 | January 3, 2011 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Some films really HAVE to be seen on a big screen. Unstoppable, for example, is absolutely VISCERAL on a big screen for the true sense of what a beast that train is. Tangled was delightful in 3-D--don't think it would be as involving in 2-D. Saw The Fighter this weekend mostly because I didn't want to wait for it to be on DVD (Christain Bale is amazing in that movie, also Amy Adams surprises with a gritty un-Amy-Adams-like performance). Same rationale for King's Speech this coming weekend--absolutely not waiting for DVD. Will try for Tron but it's low on the list, certainly behind True Grit, but Tron probably vastly improved by big screen 3-D than not. It helps that we have an awesome stadium-seating multiplex nearby with both 3D and IMAX theaters.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | January 3, 2011 3:21 PM | Report abuse

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