This past week at the box office foretells an interesting though surprising story for the future success of the Western genre. True Grit may have lost out to Little Fockers (an underwhelming, formulaic comedy) for a second straight week—Fockers managed to capitalize on both it's established name and past two successful entries in the series by taking home $26.3 million for a gross total of $103.2 million over it's two-week run while True Grit totaled $24.5 million bringing it's box office gross to $86.8 million—but the Coen Brothers film provided a more compelling result that requires a more scrutinizing look behind the numbers
The seemingly ho-hum box office number for True Grit is actually quite significant. The Coen Brothers $86.8 million dollar total (and counting) exceeds the box office receipts for all other Western Drama's since Tombstone in 1993. Additionally, True Grit is the Coen Brothers greatest box office achievement surpassing the $74.3 million earned by No Country for Old Men. This is a noteworthy accomplishment for the Western genre and may impact the type of films that the Hollywood studio machine intends to pursue over the next few years. As an avid fan of Westerns, this is particularly inviting news for me. Of course, any future Western production will require a highly competent team because matching the cinematic brilliance of the Coen Brothers and the superb ensemble cast of True Grit will be no easy task. Call me an optimist but I presume to have all the faith that another True Grit is right around the corner.
Traditionally, Westerns have a dubious track record for churning out financially resonant films. In fact, only four films have exceeded the magical $100 million dollar figure: Maverick, Dances with Wolves, Unforgiven, and Wild Wild West. Barring a collapse, True Grit is well on its way to reaching that pivotal $100 million dollar tier.
Perhaps, the success of True Grit is owed to the increasingly popular Coen Brothers directorial stewardship. I tend to think that the box office success of True Grit is the cumulative result of numerously diverse factors. These factors, in no particular order, include the fact that True Grit is a remake of a popular classic, the Coen Brothers are increasingly gaining mainstream appeal (evidenced by the strong showing of Burn After Reading), and the cast is comprised of A-List box office darlings: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. My contention; however, is not that the future status of Westerns is contingent or correlative to the same reasons for True Grit's box office success. On the contrary, the fact that it is an established success will influence Hollywood studios who make decisions primarily based off of robust box office showings. All I can hope for is that the requisite action of studios will lead to more satisfying, entertaining, and artistically significant Westerns.
Witnessing great filmmakers such as the Coen Brothers achieve commercial success for steadfastly upholding their artistic integrity foreshadows only positive developments for the future of cinema. An industry dominated by middling, underwhelming films can potentially transform into an industry that is only mildly dominated by porous filmmaking. Hail creativity in the name of the Coen Brothers, in honor of True Grit.
The Box-Office Top Five: (12/31/10-1/02/11)
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: Voyage of the Dawn Treader - $10.5 million
* Be sure to check out the COMMENTS section where JL and I discuss the abysmal career of M. Night Shyamalan, the exceptional legacy of Nolan's Inception, the future of western cinema,, and other random thoughts about the industry.
*In the above video, the Detroit News offers a flattering review of True Grit, juxtaposing its original western roots and its remaking quotient.