How did 'True Grit' become the most financially successful movie of the Coen Brothers' career? "We just outwaited everybody," Ethan Coen told The New York Times.
So far, 'True Grit' has earned $89 million at the box office (U.S. only), surpassing their previous high-water mark of $74 million for the Academy Award-winning 'No Country for Old Men.' Their immediate follow-up to that film, 'Burn After Reading,' made $60 million, probably boosted by the presence of Brad Pitt and its promise of madcap comedy, while 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' grossed $45 million about 10 years ago. The latter picture, which re-cast 'The Odyssey' with escaped convicts in the 1930s accompanied by a jaunty musical score, connected the Coens with a broader audience than ever before, even more than the devoted fans who had previously made 'Fargo' ($24 million), 'Raising Arizona' (nearly $23 million) and 'Blood Simple' ($3.8 million for their 1985 debut, with limited distribution and a tiny budget) modest success stories. The Coens also did pretty well with 'The Ladykillers' ($39 million) and 'Intolerable Cruelty' ($35 million).
What, exactly, makes 'True Grit' so much more popular than their other films?
Have audiences finally caught on, or changed, so that their dark, quirky flicks are now firmly in the mainstream? In their brief interview, the Coens suggested other, more pragmatic reasons, such as the PG-13 rating. Joel Coen said: "We knew we wanted it to be a movie younger people could watch."
Indeed, 'O Brother,' 'Raising Arizona' and 'Intolerable Cruelty' all sported PG-13 ratings. Yet 'No Country,' 'Burn After Reading,' 'The Ladykillers' and 'Fargo' did as well or better with R-rated content.
We could talk about any number of other factors, such as familiarity with the title, the crossover benefits of Jeff Bridges also starring in (and promoting) 'Tron: Legacy,' the presence of a fearless teen heroine in newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger, Josh Brolin as a villain, or the enduring appeal of Westerns.
Or, maybe it all goes back to what our own Erik Davis wrote in his review: "'True Grit' isn't quite the masterpiece some were expecting, but it's so much fun to watch that many will leave the theater thirsting for more ... of everything."
Well-advertised stars and good marketing campaigns can help even a stinker open big at the box office, but it tends to be very positive word-of-mouth (friends telling friends "You've gotta see this!") that drives continuing success.
What made you want to see 'True Grit'?