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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Little Fockers" opened in the top spot at the Christmas holiday weekend box office in North America with weaker-than-expected sales while the Coen brothers' remake of "True Grit" started strongly at No. 2.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, the comedy sequel "Little Fockers" sold just $34 million worth of tickets across the United States and Canada during the three days beginning Friday.
The latest mismatch between Ben Stiller and on-screen father-in-law Robert De Niro has earned $48.3 million since opening on Wednesday. Domestic distributor Universal Pictures said it had hoped for a five-day haul of about $60 million but was confident business would pick up over the holidays.
Exactly six years ago, the first sequel "Meet the Fockers" earned $46 million during its first weekend and $70.5 million in its first five days. In that case, the film also opened on Wednesday and Christmas also fell on a Saturday.
The series kicked off in October 2000, when "Meet the Parents" opened at No. 1 with $28.6 million. It went on to make $166 million and the first sequel ended up with $279 million.
Just 11 percent of the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes liked the latest installment, according to the review aggregation Web site. Audiences gave the film a modest B-minus rating, according to exit-polling firm CinemaScore. Women accounted
for 57 percent of the audience, Universal said.
"Little Fockers" also earned about $27 million from 37 foreign markets, led by a first-place $7.3 million start in Britain. Universal, a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal, partnered on the $100 million project with Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures and closely held financier Relativity Media. Paramount is handling foreign distribution.
The next two movies on the box-office list starred Jeff Bridges in decidedly different roles. "True Grit," Joel and Ethan Coen's update of the old John Wayne Western, opened at No. 2 with $25.6 million for the weekend, and $36.8 million since Wednesday. Distributor Paramount had conservatively forecast a five-day haul of about $20 million.
The awards-season contender ranks as the Coens' biggest opening ever, surpassing the $19 million start for "Burn After Reading" in 2008. But comparisons are difficult since their films usually roll out slowly across North America. Their 2007 best-picture Oscar winner "No Country For Old Men" ended up with $74 million after beginning its run in just 28 theaters. "True Grit" is in 3,047 theaters.
Bridges takes over Wayne's role as a grizzled U.S. marshal who helps a young woman (played by newcomer Hailee Steinfeld) avenge her father's murder. Critics loved the $38 million film and audiences gave it a B-plus CinemaScore rating. Men accounted for about two-thirds of the audience.
Last weekend's champ, "Tron: Legacy," fell to No. 3 with $20.1 million for the weekend. The 10-day total for Walt Disney Co's costly sci-fi film rose to $88.3 million. It has also earned $65.5 million internationally after a $26.6 million weekend in 34 markets.
Bridges reprises his role from the 1982 film "Tron" as a videogame developer trapped in a virtual environment. The effects-laden update reportedly cost $170 million to make and more than $100 million to market worldwide. Despite being a public company, Disney is the only major studio never to divulge its budgets.
The Christmas Day release "Gulliver's Travels" entered the chart at No. 7 with a two-day haul of $7.2 million. Jack Black stars in the latest update of Jonathan Swift's 18th century satirical novel. It was released by News Corp's 20th Century Fox, which said the opening was "pretty promising."
Among other awards-season contenders, Paramount's "The Fighter" fell two places to No. 6 with $8.5 million, Fox Searchlight's ballerina melodrama "Black Swan" slipped one to No. 8 with $6.6 million, and the Weinstein Co's royals drama "The King's Speech" rose three to No. 11 with $4.6 million.
Last weekend's big flop, "How Do You Know" fell four places to No. 12 with $3.7 million. The 10-day total for the Reese Witherspoon adult comedy rose to $15.5 million, a little short of its $100 million production tab; the film was released by Sony Corp's Columbia Pictures.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Vicki Allen