Weekend estimates for the US are in, and with them comes a very comforting tale of triumph. The Coen brothers’ Academy Award contender True Grit won the weekend, bringing in another $15m to take its total to around $110M. This meant it not only finally beat Little Fockers into second place in their running box office battle, it also firmly established its place as the Coen’s highest grossing movie. Their first film to break the $100m mark, it is a big landmark for the prolific brothers.
Their previous highest grossing film was also a western of sorts, and it went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. In 2008 No Country For Old Men won the industry’s biggest award, and the Coens will be hoping this is a portent for success this year. For what it’s worth, True Grit probably doesn’t have a chance at winning the Best Picture award, and is more likely to pick up awards for its actors. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic result.
The Coens are well respected in the film industry, enjoying critical success throughout their careers. Their movies have never made big money in the past, though to be fair they’ve never been made for that purpose. The Coens have a love of filmmaking, and their passion is in telling great stories. Their movies have always been made with modest budgets, meaning that whilst they do not break box office records, they almost always make a healthy profit. True Grit has been made on a fairly low budget too, making its takings even more impressive. Not only has it become the Coen’s biggest money spinner, it is also the third highest grossing western of all time, and should move past Wild Wild West into second place before the week is out.
So why has it been so successful? Have the mainstream movie audience finally ‘discovered’ the Coens? There are several elements that have worked in their favour. There were few quality pictures released in and around the Christmas period. True Grit only came second in its first two weeks of release because of the Ben Stiller powered Little Fockers. There has been very little other serious competition, and we have now moved into January, the traditional dumping ground for the movies that are expected to flop. This means that True Grit could continue its success, though it faces stiffer competition this coming weekend with The Green Hornet and The Dilemma.
True Grit also has a couple of box office big hitters to carry it along. No Country For Old Men had some recognisable names, but it was probably more the Oscar buzz, and great critical reception and word of mouth that carried it to its high gross. The Coens’ other previous box office hit, Burn After Reading, was given a helping hand by an all star cast headlined by the likes of Brad Pitt and George Clooney. True Grit has the best of both worlds. It has received great critical reception, and being released so close to the Academy Awards has meant that its Oscar hopes are very well publicised. It also stars last year’s Best Actor, Jeff Bridges, and Hollywood golden boy Matt Damon. Jeff Bridges is enjoying something of a renaissance following his gold statue last year for Crazy Heart, also starring in the big budget, high effects Disney movie Tron: Legacy this past month . Having his name in the headlines for Tron will certainly have helped True Grit’s ascent. Matt Damon has risen to the upper reaches of the A-List over the last couple of years, thanks particularly to his lead role in the Bourne franchise, and is high in demand. His presence will also have given True Grit a leg up.
It quite possibly helps that it is a remake of a John Wayne Western. True Grit is probably thje Coen’s most conventional movie, following very much in the classic western conventions. The trailers reflect this, and whilst the Coen’s have apparently infused the original story with their particular brand of humour and quirkiness, the film has been sold very much as a straight western story, which will have opened it up to movie goers who may have been put off in the past by the oddball antics of the brothers previous works.
I’d like to think the success of the Coen brothers’ latest work is down to the broader audience becoming more discerning. This may well have played some role, and the presence of other award hopefuls such as The Fighter, Black Swan and The King’s Speech in this weeks top ten seems to support this. Unfortunately i think timing is as much a factor in all these cases. It is however great to see such passionate and respected filmmakers being brought to a larger audience, whatever the reasons. I don’t consider myself a massive fan of their work. I’ve enjoyed every Coen brothers film that i have seen, but don’t consider any of them a favourite. I do though appreciate their great storytelling ability, as well as their great technical filmmaking prowess. As i said at the top, i don’t think True Grit is destined to clean up at the Academy Awards, but i am hoping that the success of True Grit means their work will find a larger audience in the future than it traditionally has, and may well open up some doors for them in terms of great filmmaking opportunities.
Bazmann – You can follow me on Twitter at