Box Office Spelunker: December 17-19

The corporate machinery behind "TRON: Legacy " (Disney) and "Yogi Bear" (Warner Bros.) made sure those films were hard-wired into mainstream America's moviegoing menu. "TRON," a remake of the 1982 bleeding-edge virtual reality thriller (and precursor to "The Matrix" and a precursor to nearly every other man-vs-machine movies of the past two and a half decades), computed $44 million in ticket sales. "Yogi" stole away with some $16 million. Meanwhile, "Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" managed to stay afloat in its second weekend adding $12 million to its $30 million bounty.

Still, not everyone goes to the movies to escape reality into 3-D spectacle. There is an ardent contingent of film lovers who slip into a darkened theater  to feel more, not less. As it happens, this is the peak season for movies that enable us to relive our struggles and hurts or see them reflected and refracted through characters and stories that resonate with some essential truth, no matter how extreme. Case in point: "The Fighter," which took in some $12 million and a slew of critics and Screen Actors Guild award noms this week. The boxing drama, which stars Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale as working-class pugilists who bring the best and worst out in one another, mines that rich emotional terrain of wounded but unbroken family ties. It also marks the triumphant return to form of its wildly talented writer-director David O. Russell ("Three Kings"), after six years of Job-like struggles getting his career back on track after his last film, "I Heart Huckabees" polarized critics and deterred most moviegoers.

In its first week of wide release, "Black Swan" turned in an expert performance at the box office, adding over $8 million in grosses to its earnings. This is especially impressive, considering "Swan" director Darren Aronofsky ruthlessly exposes the messy space between emotional anarchy and the tightly regimented reality of a Prima Ballerina (Natalie Portman) as she comes unraveled while preparing to play the lead in "Swan Lake."

For those truly looking to test their emotional mettle,  "Rabbit Hole" opened this weekend in five theaters and made $11,000. Director John Cameron Mitchell ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch") brings David Lindsay-Abaire's adaptation of his own play to the big screen for what may be the holiday season's most emotionally harrowing cinematic experience, in which a once-happy couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) struggle to connect after the death of their young son.  Kidman received a SAG award nomination for Best Actress late last week and is widely considered a lock to make it into Oscar's final five in that category for her delicate depiction of a grieving mom.

There have been no reports of fainting spells during "Rabbit Hole" screenings, but this beautiful piece of filmmaking requires a certain lack of emotional squeamishness of its audiences equivalent to the way "127 Hours" calls for an ability to steel oneself in the face of physical agony. Nobody's going to emerge from the experience unscathed -- a far more enticing incentive for some moviegoers (this one included) than all the 3-D wizardry in the top three movies mentioned in the first paragraph combined.

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