True Grit: Coen Brothers Most Popular Film

Joel and Ethan Coen’s “True Grit,” is not only their most popular and accessible film, but also one of the most commercial Westerns ever made.

As of today, “True Grit,” which plays in over 3,000 theaters, has grossed domestically over $125 million at the box-office. At this rate of playing, “True Grit” should make over $150 million.

For the past 25 years, Joel and Ethan Coen have represented the most imaginative talents on the contemporary American scene. With few exceptions, each of the team’s sixteen films have paid homage to, while revivifying and reinventing classic cinematic genres with a knowing quality, which is a product of their genius as well as many hours spent in the dark watching old pictures. The range and diversity of their movies have confirmed the team’s status as one of the most creative pairings in contemporary American cinema.

The ultimate performance of “True Grit” would depend on how many Oscar nominations the movie will garner on January 25, when the Academy voters express their likes and dislikes.

The movie, no doubt, benefits from the high artistic quality of the entire production: the writing, directing, acting, cinematography, and so on.  But the studio releasing it should be commended too for its shrewd marketing campaign.  Paramount decided not to send the film to festivals and held its press screenings up until the last moment.

I happen to have seen “True Grit” at its first critics screening and to be the first to post my review on line, on December 1, 2010.  The first sentence of my review was: “The Coen brothers make a major leap toward mainstream (and more conventional) cinema with ‘True Grit,’ their highly enjoyable remake of the 1969 John Wayne Western.”

Unlike most of the Coens’ film, “True Grit” is an old-fashioned work in the best sense of the term, conforming to classic Hollywood cinema in the way that the narrative unfolds and the characters interact.

Speaking of characters, at the center of this intergenerational saga is a young, resilient, tough girl, who helps an old, boozy, over the hill, not entirely responsible man until now, rediscover his own true grit and achieve redemption in the process.

Though there’s violence and some profane language, it’s the kind of film that all members of the family can attend, enjoy, and appreciate.

But don’t forget the strong critical support.  According to the Rotten Tomatoes meter, “True Grit” received 95 percent positive response and only 5 percent (or 10 reviews) negative.

None of the Coens’ previous films has enjoyed such a happy combination of favorable reviews and commercial audience appeal.

At the moment, the record holding Western is Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves,” which benefited from its Oscar-winning status back in 1990.  The movie grossed over $184 million and the figure would be much higher if adjusted for inflation.  (See chart below)

Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven,” which won Best Picture and best Director back in 1992, grossed just over $100 million domestically.

Most Popular Westerns

Dances With Wolves, Nov 9, 1990, $184.2

City Slickers, June 7, 1991, 124.0

Blazing Saddles,  Feb 6, 1974, 119.5

Maverick,  May 20, 1994, 101.6

Unforgiven, August 7, 1992, 101.1

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid,  Sep 24, 1969, 96.7

Open Range, May 15, 2003, 58.3

Tombstone, Dec 25, 1993, 56.5

City Slickers 2,  June 10, 1994, 43.6

Young Guns,  August 12, 1988, 43.4