Seems the Grinch Stole This Year’s Holiday Movies

Have a happy holiday. But don’t look for much help from Hollywood.

For the first time since 2001, Christmas Day arrives without a holiday-theme movie from the major studios, or even most of the minor ones.

Paramount is offering vengeance in “True Grit” and a bloody comeback in “The Fighter.” Disney has “Tron: Legacy,” its video game gone wild. Fox has released “Gulliver’s Travels.”

But “Jingle Bells,” eggnog and family fights that turn into warm and fuzzy moments around the tree are almost nowhere to be found in the films left behind by executives, who have mostly abandoned Burbank for Brazil and all points of the compass.

“I think it’s just weird, because it looks like a real missed opportunity,” said Paul Dergarabedian, who monitors film box office results for Hollywood.com.

Every year in the last eight has brought a Christmas-theme film or two, including some real hits.

In 2003, for instance, New Line Cinema went on to snag a startling $173 million in domestic ticket sales when it put Will Ferrell in tights for “Elf.” Disney took in $139 million at the domestic box office with “The Santa Clause 2” in 2002, and nearly $138 million last year with “A Christmas Carol.”

The most impressive Christmas-theme hit in recent memory was “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which took in $260 million for Universal after its release in November 2000 and became that year’s best box office performer.

Christmas films have an obvious advantage in that much of the audience has already warmed to the seasonal subject matter. But studio executives are somewhat wary of the genre, because even a slight hitch in the production process can force them to hold a movie for a full year.

Something like that happened to DreamWorks SKG, for instance, when it shot “Surviving Christmas,” with Ben Affleck, in early 2003, then bumped the release to late 2004, to avoid competing with a thriller, “Paycheck,” in which Mr. Affleck also starred. (“Surviving Christmas” was a flop.)

This year brings a dollop of Christmas-Hanukkah cheer at the end of Universal’s “Little Fockers,” in which a nurse, played by Ben Stiller, squares off against his ex-C.I.A.-operative father-in-law, played by Robert De Niro.

“The Nutcracker in 3D,” from Freestyle Releasing, is also playing in a small number of theaters, as is “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” from Oscilloscope Laboratories. (A Finnish import, “Rare Exports,” according to Jeannette Catsoulis, who reviewed it for The New York Times, “turns Santa into a savage troll and his elves into naked, wrinkly graybeards.”)

And Warner Brothers is back in a few Imax theaters with another re-release of “The Polar Express,” which was the studio’s big Christmas hit in 2004.

Otherwise, it’s a matter of waiting for Hollywood to get its holiday groove back.

That will happen, Mr. Dergarabedian predicted, on Nov. 23, 2011, when Sony Pictures expects to release its “Arthur Christmas.” It is an animated extravaganza, in 3-D, about toys and elves and a high-tech distribution operation based at the North Pole.

This year is probably just an oversight, Mr. Dergarabedian said, adding, “I don’t think there’s a conspiracy against Santa.”

NY Times

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