Following its astounding Friday total of $30.5 million, American Sniper continued to take down records in its first frame in wide release. The drama earned an estimated $90.6 million through Sunday. Not only does that double the film’s most generous early projections, it blows away January’s previous weekend record of $41.5 million, set by Ride Along last year. In fact, American Sniper’s weekend estimate is so enormous, it has already easily claimed the four-day Martin Luther King, Jr. record as well. Even with Monday left to play out, Sniper has already eclipsed the previous MLK holiday high of $48.6 million, also established by Ride Along.
|2.||The Wedding Ringer||$21,000,000||$21|
|6.||The Imitation Game||$7,192,000||$50.8|
|7.||Into the Woods||$6,542,000||$114.2|
|8.||The Hobbit 3||$4,860,000||$244.5|
Full story after the jump.
When a film opens so far above its projection (never mind established convention), it’s natural to wonder how such a thing was accomplished. Not only is this weekend’s American Sniper estimate well above the opening that The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies put up back in December, it is more than the blockbuster earned in its first five days following its Wednesday release. This morning’s estimate also ranks among the highest-openings of the past twelve months. Only seven 2014 releases earned more in their first three days in wide release, including the usual suspects from Marvel. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Maleficent that now rank below the American Sniper opening.
To say this is a stunning achievement for American Sniper is a crazy understatement. January is supposed to be a dumping ground for marginal and/or art-house fare, after all. So how did director Clint Eastwood, who we last saw scraping box office bottom with Jersey Boys in June, pull off tripling his previous career high ($29.5 million for Gran Torino) this weekend?
To start, American Sniper received a perfect ‘A+’ CinemaScore. Recent films that have been similarly honored by audiences include The Help, The King’s Speech and Frozen. Note that all three films received Academy Awards nominations – and at least one win each. It seems unlikely that American Sniper will claim Best Picture honors this year, though the fact that it received a nomination the day before its nationwide expansion certainly didn’t hurt. Finally, although Taken 3 opened with a strong $39.2 million last weekend, the box office has been otherwise dominated by December releases. The time was right for a film with solid reviews and great word of mouth to redefine the boundaries of a January release.
In fact this month’s bad reputation hasn’t been warranted for some time. One can argue the creative merits of films like Ride Along and Lone Survivor, but there is no denying that both were big box office success stories. Then there are the horror titles that regularly make their mark in January. Both Mama and The Devil Inside turned huge profits for their respective studios in the last few years. So just as Guardians of the Galaxy shattered expectations for an August release, American Sniper should signal a shift in the way studios approach the January schedule… either that or it’s a crazy outlier, who can tell?
With all the attention centered on American Sniper’s record-setting expansion, you would be forgiven for forgetting that Eastwood’s was not the only major film to open nationwide over this long holiday weekend. Three new releases also hit theatres: both The Wedding Ringer, starring Kevin Hart, and The Weinstein Co.’s adaptation of Paddington were aiming for debuts between $20 and $25 million. Only the former pulled it off. Both films should hit $25 by the end of the four-day holiday, however, and considering how much oxygen American Sniper sucked out of the box office this weekend, both films have reason to be happy with their current estimates.
On the other hand, Blackhat (starring Chris Hemsworth) got lost in the shuffle. The Michael Mann thriller earned a dismal $4 million from 2,567 locations this weekend: less than half what duds like I, Frankenstein and The Legend of Hercules claimed last January.
Considering the staggering accomplishment American Sniper pulled off this weekend, there is little doubt that the drama will remain on top for a second frame. Two new films will also see nationwide release nest week, though each one is expected to stick closer to the traditional January release model (crap, in other words) than the more expanded definition I prophesied above. Johnny Depp will continue his box office descent (Into the Woods aside) with the comedy Mortdecai, which is expected to fall short of $10 million. The Boy Next Door, with Jennifer Lopez, should pull in a bit more, though not enough to challenge American Sniper – or even Paddington – in terms of next weekend’s top five.