Inside Pulse Box Office Report: Natalie Portman Dominates the Top 10

With only one new wide release opening this weekend, it goes without saying that any shakeup in the box office was minor. Just business as usual. New kid on the block comes out and knocks the previous winner down a peg. Considering that No Strings Attached starred a pair of publicity-heavy celebs that were either featured or mentioned in some capacity at the most recent Golden Globes (i.e., Bruce Willis is Ashton Kutcher’s dad!), a $20 million opening seems like a number that matches industry expectations. Neither Natalie Portman nor Kutcher command heavy salaries and Ivan Reitman looks like he’s just happy to direct something, anything. Budget estimates have this one being made for $25 million, and once Oscar nominations come out you can bet Paramount will try to capitalize on Portman’s nomination in hopes to getting carryover from the Black Swan crowd.

And I have to hand it to Paramount for its marketing of No Strings Attached. Like Warner Bros.’ Going the Distance, watching the ads you would never know about its coarseness. But this is an R-rated sex comedy for that very reason. The opening scene alone may take viewers aback when a 14-year-old boy propositions a girl of similar age something that I don’t think would be allowed if this was PG-13. Another plus is that the adult subject matter (“friends with benefits” and all its other synonyms) should make it more accessible to older teens, an audience that would be more inclined to see this than something like The Dilemma. It will be interesting to see how Friends with Benefits, another comedy with a similar premise, but starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis (Portman’s co-star in Black Swan), fares when it opens seven months from now.

It’s looking more and more that Sony’s decision to bump The Green Hornet from summer ’10 to January ’11 was a smart business decision. Opening after the likes of Tron: Legacy and Yogi Bear, Hornet was able to take 3D screens away from those films and fully take advantage of those 3D surcharges with its opening last week. However, this week it lost nearly 50% of its total audience from the week before. This is typical. Thankfully those surcharges helped to cushion the blow. It’s got two more weeks before Sanctum, which has James Cameron’s name all over it (even though he’s only the executive producer), opens and takes some of those 3D screens away. Will it cross $100 million in that time? No, I don’t believe so. But it will be in the ball park. Look for international grosses to help Hornet‘s overall numbers and DVD and Blu-ray sales and rentals to ensure that the adaptation of the classic ’30s radio serial turns a profit.

Universal’s infidelity comedy, The Dilemma, takes a tumble this week with No Strings Attached taking away some of its viewers. Lucky for Ron Howard he got paid upfront, I guess sensing that the quality of Allan Loeb’s script couldn’t net him some serious bank.

The King’s Speech, though playing in less than 2000 theaters, is fast approaching $60 million. Once the Oscar nominations go out on January 25, watch as it continues to expand to more and more screens and try for $100 million. True Grit and Black Swan are two other films that will also take bounces as well. Believe it or not, Swan is likely to be 20th Century Fox’s biggest release since Avatar. That’s right, a ballet thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman is but $15 million away from eclipsing Fox’s second-highest release of 2010, Date Night.

Nevertheless, The King’s Speech shows that audiences can be drawn to period pieces even if the subject involves a man who has a stammering problem. Colin Firth doesn’t actually command box office attention, but Tom Hopper’s film has that great combination of having one of the strongest casts as well as a production design that looks like it is worth far more than its $15 million price tag. The Coen brothers’ take on the Charles Portis novel True Grit is on pace to be the biggest box office western of all time. Like Christopher Nolan and his success with Inception, Joel and Ethan Coen are entering the “give me a blank check and let me work” category of filmmakers.

Of the potential Oscar nominees on the cusp of reaching nine digits, David O. Russell’s The Fighter has a fighting chance, but a slim one. Next week, Fox Searchlight will be pushing James Franco and Danny Boyle again when it expands 127 Hours by 400 screens, so people who haven’t seen Christian Bale’s masterful turn as Micky Ward’s older brother Dicky Ecklund, better make a point and see it before it’s too late.

Little Fockers is still scraping by and will finish as the weakest entry in the Focker series thus far. I say “thus far,” when I should just end it at series. But will Universal heed my advice? What’s really scary is that the three Fockers have amassed more than a billion in worldwide gross. That’s disgusting.

With the recent news that a teaser for another Tron movie will be included on the home video release of Tron Legacy, the fact that Legacy is approaching $170 million is of little consequence since Disney looks to be in for the long haul with a sequel, TV series and all sorts of branded merchandise in the works. Merchandising isn’t just for Star Wars and Spaceballs, kiddies.

If the mainstream box office was bad for new releases, it was for films in limited release. Peter Weir’s The Way Back netted $1.5 million on 650 screens, while The Company Men opened at 106 locations and made only $767k. Both were well made, but may be too under the radar for some audiences. Blue Valentine, which I bill as the anti-(500) Days of Summer, continues to find an audiences having grossed $4.5 million after four weeks. I guess being counterprogramming to the likes of The Dilemma and other relationship movies is the secret of its success.

Box Office Estimates taken from

1. No Strings Attached – $20.3 million
2. The Green Hornet – $18.1 million ($63 mil. overall)
3. The Dilemma – $9.7 million ($33 mil. overall)
4. The King’s Speech – $9.2 million ($59 mil. overall)
5. True Grit – $8 million ($139 mil. overall)
6. Black Swan – $6.2 million ($84 mil. overall)
7. The Fighter – $4.5 million ($73 mil. overall)
8. Little Fockers – $4.4 million ($141 mil. overall)
9. Yogi Bear – $4.1 million ($89 mil. overall)
10. Tron Legacy – $3.7 million ($163 mil. overall)

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