Weekend Box Office: American Sniper Aims Big, Hits Really Big

After three weeks of a record-setting limited release, Warner’s Best Picture nominee American Sniper went wide at the North American box office this weekend where it earned an incredible $90.2 million. The acclaimed Clint Eastwood-directed drama wasn’t the only big hit at the multiplex over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Sony’s Kevin Hart comedy The Wedding Ringer and The Weinstein Company’s Paddington also posted solid numbers. Universal’s Blackhat, on the other hand, did not. Thanks to the massive opening for American Sniper, the top ten surged not only 72% from last weekend but also 22% from a year ago.

January has become a prime month for studios to release military-themed dramas that strike a cord with the American movie going public. Black Hawk Down, Zero Dark Thirty and Lone Survivor were all big hits that went into wide release in mid-January after a successful limited run the month before. Each of these R-rated features opened north of $24 million en route to final domestic tallies between $95-130 million.

American Sniper followed the same release pattern, but its box office fortunes are proving to be a bit different. Its four screen limited run earned $3.4 million, which was a record setter in its own right. This weekend’s remarkable $90.2 million estimate on 3,555 screens is another matter altogether. Sniper is not only the biggest opening of Clint Eastwood’s career as an actor or director; it will also be the biggest opening ever by a film during the winter season. The daily breakdown for the film was $30.5 million on Friday, $34.7 million on Saturday and an estimated $25 million for Sunday.

Critical notices for the drama, based on the memoirs of real-life Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle and starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, were mostly positive. You can check our own Jon Hueber’s review here. The film earned a 73% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 72/100 rating on Metacritic. Ticket buyers were even more supportive of the $60 million production. Those polled on opening day gave the Best Picture nominee an “A+” on CinemaScore, which should be a good barometer for the film’s box office longevity. Should word-of-mouth be as strong as indicated American Sniper may wind up being Eastwood’s first $200 million hit. Not bad for an 84-year old filmmaker.

Sniper is also scoring with audiences overseas; a market that yielded mixed results for Black Hawk Down, Lone Survivor and Zero Dark Thirty. American Sniper has opened in only a handful of territories so far but has already taken in $17 million.

Kevin Hart, whose Ride Along held the title for biggest January opening for the past year, also scored a hit opening this weekend with his new R-rated comedy The Wedding Ringer. The Screen Gems release walked down 3,003 theatrical aisles to earn an estimated $21 million. Reviews for the $23 million production, which co-stars Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco and Olivia Thirlby and was directed by Jeremy Garelick, were on the negative side (33% Rotten Tomatoes and a 32/100 on Metacritic) but the public seemed to like it. They gave the film an “A-“ Cinemascore rating.

The new family feature Paddington landed in third place with a solid $19.2 million from 3,303 screens. The film won over both critics and the public. Ticket buyers gave the film an “A” on Cinemascore while critics gave the loveable little bear come to life a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 77/100 Metacritic score. The Paul King feature, which stars Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Nicole Kidman (among others), has already bagged $122 million from overseas markets.

The timing was ideal for the release of Paddington, which was originally set for a Christmas release. The batch of family offerings from the holidays had run their course, so families were on the hunt for something new to check out. With no real competition on the horizon, Paddington should have a solid run in North America ahead of it.

Last week’s champ Taken 3 got knocked out by the arrival of American Sniper in its second weekend on 3,594 screens. The Liam Neeson sequel fell a deadly 64% to earn an estimated $14 million. After ten days Taken 3 has earned $63 million and is heading to a final domestic total between $85-90 million. Foreign totals currently stand at $64 million.

Despite only nabbing two Oscar nominations Paramount’s Selma held ground in its second weekend on 2,235 screens. The Civil Rights drama was down only 27% to earn $8.3 million to finish in fifth place. The film’s total currently stands at $25.9 million. Word-of-mouth should keep the film a popular choice among adult filmgoers over the next few weeks, which in turn should help the $20 million production earn approximately $50 million.

The remainder of the top ten is as follows:

  1. The Imitation Game (Weinstein) $7.1 million (-0.3%); $50.7 million
  1. Into the Woods (Disney) $6.5 million (-31%); $114.2 million
  1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Warner) $4.8 million (-48%); $244. 5 million
  1. Unbroken (Universal) $4.2 million (-48%); $108.6 million

One film that didn’t have a good opening this weekend was Universal’s cyber thriller Blackhat, which landed with a thud in tenth place. The $70 million Michael Mann feature starring Chris Hemsworth was slammed by critics (33% on Rotten Tomatoes and 49/100 Metacritics) and ignored by the public. With a horrible $4 million gross from 2,567 theaters perhaps Hollywood will now realize that action thrillers centering on computers is about as interesting as writing code.

Next weekend sees the arrival of The Boy Next Door, Mortdecai and the George Lucas-written and produced animated feature Strange Magic. Nothing will displace American Sniper from the number one spot.



American Sniper review

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