LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The commercially underwhelming comedy "Little Fockers" narrowly retained its lead at the North American box office during the holiday weekend, as Hollywood's prolonged slump spilled over into the new year.
According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "Little Fockers" earned $26.3 million during the three days beginning December 31, followed by "True Grit" with $24.5 million, and "Tron: Legacy" with $18.3 million. The movies, all either sequels or remakes, were unchanged in rank from last weekend.
"Little Fockers," the third entry in the dueling in-laws franchise starring Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro, has earned $103.2 million after 12 days. Its predecessor, "Meet the Fockers," released exactly six years earlier, had pulled in almost $163 million after the same period.
The Jeff Bridges Western remake "True Grit," one of the few hits of the holiday season, has earned $86.8 million also after 12 days. But with a $38 million budget, the Coen brothers' drama cost about one-third of "Little Fockers," and is expected to hold up well as awards season plays out.
Overall sales fell for the eighth consecutive weekend compared with the year-ago period, when business was driven by such hits as "Avatar" and "The Blind Side."
The weak performance brought the curtain down on a disappointing year for Hollywood, when higher prices for 3D movies failed to offset a decline in attendance.
The number of movie tickets sold in 2010 slid about 5.4 percent from 2009, according to box office analysts at Hollywood.com. It marked the biggest percentage drop since 2005 when attendance tumbled 8.1 percent.
Overall ticket sales were flat at about $10.6 billion, marking the first time since 2008 that sales failed to improve upon the previous year, Hollywood.com said. The flat picture came as the studios charged moviegoers an extra few dollars each for the privilege of seeing films ranging from the hit "Alice in Wonderland" to the bomb "Piranha" in 3D.
Fans and critics increasingly carped that the picture quality for some 3D movies did not justify the premium pricing, while parents faced an even steeper tab for a family excursion. All three of the 3D movies in the weekend top 10, "Tron: Legacy," "Yogi Bear" and the Rapunzel cartoon "Tangled" were aimed at families, although only "Tangled" is a big hit with sales to date of $168 million.
"Tron: Legacy," a sci-fi reboot also starring Bridges, has earned $130.9 million after three weekends, but the film cost about $170 million to make and has failed to cross break out far beyond its niche of young men.
"Yogi Bear" rose one place to No. 4 with $13 million in its third weekend. The $80 million animated picture has earned just $66 million to date.
Slipping one place to No. 5 was another family-oriented underperformer, "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," with $10.5 million its fourth weekend. The third entry in the "Narnia" fantasy franchise has earned $87 million after four weekends. But the $140 million film is doing much better overseas.
"Little Fockers" was released in North America by Universal Pictures, a unit of General Electric Co's NBC Universal. Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc, released the film internationally. Paramount also released "True Grit" in North America. "Tron: Legacy" and "Tangled" were released by Walt Disney Pictures, a unit of Walt Disney Co. "Yogi Bear" was released by Warner Bros Pictures, a unit of Time Warner Inc. "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Doina Chiacu