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Weekend Box Office: American Sniper Red Hot in Record January Opening

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By Chris Kavan - 01/18/15 at 08:44 PM CT

There were early calls that American Sniper was going to open big, but even the most generous models were no match for the sheer enormity of Clint Eastwood's true-story war drama. Meanwhile, it was also a pretty good weekend for families and comedy fans - though with American Sniper getting all the attention, the same couldn't be said for Blackhat. With the impressive opening the top 12 films earned $183.6 million - a 19% increase from the same period last year and will only look better once the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday rolls around on Monday.

1) AMERICAN SNIPER

As I said, American Sniper was predicted to open big, but I don't think anyone expected it to open this big. It easily took the top spot at the box office with an amazing $90.2 million debut. That obliterated the previous January record set last year by Ride Along ($41.5 million) as well as coming in second to just The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million) for the opening of any R-rated film. It was the best opening yet for director Clint Eastwood, also handily topping his previous high Gran Torino ($29.48 million) and it now easily leads all the other best-picture nominees in terms of grosses. It also set a record IMAX opening for an R-rated film, earning $11.5 million in the large-screen format. Audiences also awarded it the coveted "A+" Cinemascore - so word of mouth will likely propel this into the $250 million range and beyond. It should earn over $100 million by the time the MLK holiday ends. It's hard to exactly pinpoint why this had such an amazing opening - it had the right early buzz (playing in limited theaters, it set records there too) it has a familiar director, a likeable lead actor in Bradley Cooper, is coming off a slew of Oscar nominations and has been a hit with most critics. It was the perfect storm of popularity, patriotism and anticipation - and boy, did it ever work out well. Expect Sniper to top the standings for at least a couple weeks and stay in the top five for quite a bit longer.

2) THE WEDDING RINGER

American Sniper may have taken away Kevin Hart's claim to the highest-opening January release, but he can bask in at least another record. The Wedding Ringer opened in second with $21 million, which is the highest opening for an R-rated comedy in January. It was still less than half of what Ride Along brought in - but it is also the fourth film in a row for Hart to top the $20 million mark. With Hart the main selling point - it should follow the same trajectory as Tammy - another film built around its star (Melissa McCarthy) with also opened in the $21 million range. That being said, this looks better than Tammy and audiences awarded it a fine "A-" Cinemascore and with no major comedies coming up, it should be able to top $50 million easy - we'll see how much higher it can reach.

3) PADDINGTON

The marmalade-loving Peruvian bear may not have looked so hot in trailers, but audiences certainly warmed up to the fuzzy family film. With $19.3 million, it was just behind The Wedding Ringer (and may end up topping it on Monday). Audience and critics alike were impressed. It has a terrific 98% Rotten Tomatoes score while it also earned a stellar "A" Cinemascore from audiences. Originally scheduled for a 2014 Christmas release, the studio smartly positioned it in the less competitive January slot -and it looks like the move paid off. It has received a warm welcome in the international market as well. The big boon for the loveable bear is that there is no major family competition until February, meaning Paddington has a good shot at $70 million before it ends its run.

4) TAKEN 3

With American Sniper likely taking over most of its target audience, Taken 3 took a sizable 64% hit in its second weekend out. The Liam Neeson action flick dropped to 4th place with just over $14 million, giving the film a new total of $62.8 million. Still, the film only cost $48 million, and should climb passed the $75 million mark though it is now looking as if the franchise film is going to fall short of $100 million.


5) SELMA

The Civil Rights drama/ Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic will likely get a nice bump on the holiday and it held up reasonably well for the weekend, dipping just 27% from its opening. It took in $8.3 million, raising its total to $26 million. Although most other major award nominated films got some sort of bump, Selma should still be one of the higher-grossing pictures out of the nominations, even if some feel it was slighted in the director and acting categories.


Outside the top five: Due in large part to American Sniper's dominance, the week's other action film Blackhat, had a terrible opening. The Chris Hemsworth led-hacking drama, though tackling a timely subject, could barely crack the top 10 with just over $4 million. It was one of the worst openings for director Michael Mann, as well as one of the worst for a film debuting in 2500 or more theaters. Those who did show up didn't think highly of it, either, giving it a weak "C-" Cinemascore. Expect this to exit very quickly with a total below $10 million. With a reported $70 million budget, even foreign totals may not be enough to save it from the red.

The Imitation game added a handful of theaters following its many award nominations and nearly even with last week, earning $7.2 million and cracked the $50 million mark in the process (it stands at $50.8 million) and is still topping The King's Speech through the same period.

Almost every other award-contending film tried to capitalize on the announcement by expanding into more theaters. The biggest winner seems to be Birdman, which jumped from 20th to 14th place (gaining 164.5%) and taking in $1.56 million for a new total of $28.2 million. We'll see how these award nominees shape up in the coming weeks with Oscars just around the corner.

Next week expect American Sniper to hold strong even though it faces competition from the Jennifer Lopez thriller Boy Next Door, the offbeat action comedy Mortdecai and George Lucas's passion project Strange Magic.

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