Ethan and Joel Coen on the set of No Country for Old Men
February 11, 2010
Release Date: Dec. 25 Studio: Paramount Genre: Western Directors:Ethan Coen, Joel Coen Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen Cast:Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin Studio Description: A tough U.S. Marshal helps a stubborn young woman track down her father's murderer.
Analysis: Reportedly, True Grit (2010) is based off the Charles Portis novel of the same name and not a direct remake of the 1969 Henry Hathaway-directed John Wayne classic. No matter what, though, the original movie is so well known that it will be at the forefront of many moviegoers' minds. The new Grit features Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn (the John Wayne role), Matt Damon as La Boeuf (the Glen Campbell role) and Josh Brolin presumably as bad guy Ned Pepper (the Robert Duvall role). Mr. Bridges previously worked with the Coens on The Big Lebowski, while Brolin, who headlines the Western-themed Jonah Hex in June, co-starred in the Coens' No Country for Old Men.
The original True Grit is not necessarily some untouchable classic, but its star, John Wayne, remains such an icon to this day that it's hard to imagine anyone filling his shoes, even a venerable actor like Jeff Bridges (there will probably be many "The Dude takes on The Duke" references). Younger audiences might not care, but older audiences likely will and they are the ones that drive business for Westerns. The Coens and the marketing should work double-time to explain why they've remade True Grit, beyond Hollywood's usual attempt to cash in on a famous name.
The last major Western remake was 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and it posted decent returns, opening with a $14 million weekend on its way to a $53.6 million final, but its 1957 predecessor wasn't as well known as True Grit. The Alamo (2004) mined material that John Wayne already famously covered in The Alamo (1960), and it failed, grossing $22.4 million in its entire run. In general, Westerns that receive nationwide release are few and far between. The last one was Appaloosa in September 2008, and it only mustered $20.2 million, and The Missing flopped in 2003. Open Range, on the other hand, fared pretty well, racking up $58.3 million in 2003, but one has to go back another ten years, to 1993, to find another successful, straightforward Western: Tombstone, which corralled $56.5 million or the equivalent of over $103 million adjusted for ticket price inflation.
The Coen Bros. have had limited experience in the genre: O Brother, Where Art Thou? aimed for a down home vibe and became one of their most successful pictures (particularly its soundtrack), while No Country for Old Men, despite being set in 1980, had Western elements and stands as their highest-grossing picture at $74.3 million. No Country was well-received by audiences for its action thriller plotline and sequences, but alienated many with its malevolent, artsy-fartsy meanderings. The True Grit remake would be commercially better-served emphasizing the former over the latter. People will want to see a straight-shooting remake, not simply the Coens' dark, snarky spin. As of this writing, though, the movie reportedly hasn't begun production yet, so it's not possible to get a good read on how it might turn out.
At the end of the day, the John Wayne connection may prove helpful in raising awareness for the True Grit remake. Unfortunately, the Western genre has been on the wane since Mr. Wayne's passing (aside from some Clint Eastwood movies), and Westerns are such a rarity these days that the genre itself may dominate True Grit's media coverage. Westerns are considered so quaint to the Hollywood bandwagoners that the prospects of Westerns in the near future may ride on True Grit's performance.