'Little Fockers' Set to Challenge 'Tron' at Weekend Box Office

Universal Studios

(L to R) The test of wills between Jack Byrnes (ROBERT DE NIRO) and Greg Focker (BEN STILLER) escalates to new heights of comedy in the third installment of the blockbuster series--"Little Fockers". 

Comedy threequel is expected to nab $60 million but fall short of 2004 opening of "Meet the Fockers."

The Christmas rush continues in theaters Wednesday as threequel Little Fockers and the Coen Brothers' Western remake True Grit enter the fray while Fox Searchlight's Black Swan expands nationwide into a total of 1,461 theaters.

Little Fockers, opening in 3,536 runs domestically, has every chance of winning the Wednesday-Sunday race because Disney's Tron: Legacy is playing more narrowly than expected and Fockers is a broad comedy with cross-gender appeal.

There's concern that the 2010 holiday session has gotten off to a sluggish start for bigger studio titles, although comparisons to last year are tough because of Fox megahit Avatar.

Little Fockers is borrowing its release pattern from the 2004 sequel Meet the Fockers, which bowed on the Wednesday before Christmas (the holiday also fell on a Saturday that year). Meet the Fockers grossed $70.5 million for the five days.

However, Universal insiders expect Little Fockers to gross closer to $60 million over the five days, saying threequels often fall off.

Starring franchise players Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro, Little Fockers also sees the return of Barbra Streisand and Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman's last-minute return to the cast required reshoots.

Universal, Relativity Media and Paramount Pictures are equal partners in Fockers, which cost $100 million to make. Paramount is distributing overseas, where the film all but opens day and date.

Originally, Fox was going to open 3D family film Gulliver's Travels Wednesday opposite Fockers and True Grit. At the 11th hour, the studio decided to push back the release to Christmas Day to allow more time for marketing and distance it from other 3D titles. Picture is soft so far in tracking.

Paramount opens True Grit in slightly more than 3,000 runs domestically, marking the widest opening ever for Ethan and Joel Coen, whose films usually roll out slowly. True Grit's commercial hopes draw from its cast -- Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin -- and the fact that the 1969 True Grit is a classic.

Paramount is looking for True Grit to gross about $20 million for the five days, but rival studio execs say it could do more. Film is tracking best among men.

True Grit was budgeted at $38 million. David Ellison's Skydance Prods. co-financed with Paramount.

Paramount's other holiday offering is Relativity's The Fighter, which scored a strong debut last weekend.

Searchlight's Black Swan is an early hit, landing in the top 10 last weekend as it expanded to 959 theaters.

Opening Wednesday on the specialty side is Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, which won the Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice International Film Festival.

Focus Features bows Somewhere -- starring Stephen Dorff and Elle Fanning -- in seven theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington.

Screen Gems opens the Gwyneth Paltrow-Garrett Hudlund topliner Country Strong in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles for an awards-qualifying run. It opens nationwide Jan. 7.

During the year-end holiday, the usual rules about the box office don't apply. Usually, companies can predict a film's lifetime gross based on opening weekend. At Christmas, they won't know until New Year's weekend because of strong midweek business.

Monday was busier than a usual Monday, with Tron grossing $6 million for a domestic cume of $50 million in its first four days. Warner Bros.' Yogi Bear grossed $2.4 million for a four-day cume of $18.8 million.

Theater traffic should pick up noticeably Wednesday and Thursday before plummeting on Friday, which is Christmas Eve. Once presents are unwrapped Saturday, there will be some family traffic late in the day. Sunday could look like a Friday or a Saturday.