You couldn’t have a better week if you were Warner Bros., Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, or a film called American Sniper. After landing six high-profile Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and inserting itself squarely into the national conversation, Sniper absolutely tore apart the January box office, setting record after record, while banking $107.0 million over the four-day Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend.
More on Sniper‘s extraordinary achievements in a moment, but on the flipside of the Sniper success, Michael Mann’s Blackhat, a polarizing film which left critics either defending the film or outright mocking it in their reviews, failed to land in the Top 10, pushed out by Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, which outraced Blackhat for the #10 spot.
The two other wide openings for the weekend, The Wedding Ringer and Paddington battled it out for #2, with both films generating about a quarter of the money earned by American Sniper.
The Sniper-house rules
American Sniper was going to be a big, big deal, but no one saw this coming. The biggest weekend ever on Martin Luther King, Jr. day prior to Sniper belonged to James Cameron’s Avatar, which earned $54.4 million in 2010. Sniper nearly doubled that.
The three-day total of $89.3 million (Friday-Sunday) obliterated the one-year record of $41.5 million, amassed by the Kevin Hart and Ice Cube-led Ride Along.
That same three-day total earned it the distinction of scoring the biggest opening or expansion for a Winter release of all time, besting The Passion of the Christ and its $83.8 million start in 2004.
Not surprisingly, it earned the largest Oscar bump in movie history, aided from its expansion from 4 theaters to 3,555. The film’s 97% percent boost eclipsed Zero Dark Thirty‘s 90.2% Oscar bump from 2013.
And as has been well documented, by late Saturday night, American Sniper became the biggest grossing Oscar nominee for Best Picture, roaring past The Grand Budapest Hotel which led the pack on Thursday’s announcements with $59.1 million.
The expansion weekend was the second biggest wide opening or expansion of Bradley Cooper’s career, second only to Guardians of the Galaxy, and gave Clint Eastwood’s his biggest grossing weekend of all time. Sniper is just $41 million away from becoming Eastwood’s biggest grossing film of all time, as 2008’s Gran Torino temporarily holds that crown with domestic box office of $148.1 million.
For comparison sake, much has been written about connecting Sniper to Lone Survivor, a film which got an Oscar qualifying run in December 2013 and expanded similarly in January 2014. Sniper‘s gross will eclipse Lone Survivor’s entire domestic gross ($125.1 million) possibly by the time this article is published. This film is a juggernaut right now.
Much will be written here and discussed on the Awards Circuit Power Hour about what this means for American Sniper‘s Oscar chances. You have to believe that Warner Bros., those who orchestrated the incredible PR campaign, and cast, crew, and all involved are very, very happy today.
Kevin Hart vs. Paddington Bear
Lost in the Sniper celebration, a curious battle for second place developed between Kevin Hart and British import Paddington, as the counterprogrammed Paddington and The Wedding Ringer battled for runner-up status. In the end, the precocious, anthropomorphic, walking teddy bear crossed the finish line just ahead of the rambunctious Hart, who hosted “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend in the hopes of boosting awareness of his romantic comedy, which co-stars Josh Gad.
The Wedding Ringer has already turned a profit on its production budget ($24.0 million on a $23 million budget), and Paddington ($25.5 million domestic) is playing with house money after its massive financial success overseas. Hart won the three-day weekend numbers, but couldn’t close the deal on Monday, though both films performed quite well against the surging American Sniper.
Blackhat. Oh Mann, Blackhat.
No one cared about Blackhat ($4.5 million for the four-day weekend) and Chris Hemsworth only seemed to reiterate the notion that without Thor or the Avengers surrounding him, his status as a bankable leading man is tenuous at best.
Acknowledging Snow White and the Huntsman, which was also arguably a huge success because of the red hot Kristen Stewart during her Twilight heyday, Rush and Red Dawn have not delivered for the Australian actor. Director Michael Mann was given a production budget of $70 million for the film and if Blackhat taps out between $10-$15 million as expected, this will easily be the first dismal failure of 2015.
Oscar Bumps Elsewhere?
With Oscar nominations landing on Thursday, exhibitors had to leave screens open for potential expansion of films that performed strong with the Academy. Among them, Birdman reappeared in a bunch of theaters, doubling its reach and gaining a +217% increase in ticket sales. The Imitation Game expanded slightly larger and gained 11% over the four-day weekend, while the numbers were favorable for Ava DuVernay’s Selma, which saw a 23% bump over the weekend.
Whiplash and Boyhood got accelerated re-releases with middling per screen averages. Whiplash‘s total box office gross of $6.7 million is shockingly low.
Best actress frontunner Julianne Moore saw Still Alice debut (officially) with a solid $237k haul in just 12 locations. Sony Pictures Classics also disclosed the film had banked $60,000 in its December qualifying run. It expands throughout January and February.
Next Weekend: Johnny Depp vs. Jennifer Lopez vs. George Lucas and Disney!
Johnny Depp. Gwyneth Paltrow. Ewan McGregor. Mortdecai. One of the more confounding releases to come along in awhile, Depp’s R-rated action/comedy gets the death knell of January for its release date and reports are that critics will have to expense this one to their editors on Thursday night preshows. The buzz here is that this film could be gloriously bad, as unfunny a comedy as there has been in some time. Perhaps Lionsgate just doesn’t want to bother with booking theaters for screenings, as they have a penchant for withholding a handful of their films from critics each year. But what is this thing? I guess audiences and critics will find out together. You’ve been warned.
Then we have Strange Magic, an animated family film combining the forces of George Lucas’ LucasFilm/ILM and Walt Disney Pictures. An adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the story was pitched as “Beauty and the Beast but the Beast never changes,” according to director Gary Rydstrom.
The soundtrack brings together six decades of music and features voiceover work and singing from Kristen Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, and Evan Rachel Wood. Maya Rudolph and Alfred Molina also join a film that took more than four years to bring to the big screen.
Critics won’t be seeing Strange Magic either. Uh oh.
The Boy Next Door
Lastly, Jennifer Lopez goes all in on The Boy Next Door, playing an older divorcee who has a tryst with her young neighbor (Ryan Guzman), only to have things get all obsessive and dangerous. This is also the movie with the greatest line you will ever hear in a film:
J. Lo’s Unaware Teenage Son: “Would you like some of my mother’s cookies?”
The Neighbor Boy Next Door: “I love your mother’s cookies…”
Oh boy. This. This could be truly great.
The Top 10 Grossing Films for the Week Ending January 19, 2015
Rankings account for the full four-day Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Weekend
1. American Sniper (Warner Bros.)
$107.0 million, $110.4 million total, 4 weeks, +18,365% (3,555 screens).
2. Paddington (Weinstein Company/Dimension)
$25.5 million, $25.5 million total, NEW (3,303 screens).
3. The Wedding Ringer (Screen Gems)
$24.0 million, $24.0 million total, NEW (3,003 screens).
4. Taken 3 (20th Century Fox)
$17.1 million, $65.8 million total, 2 weeks, -57% (3,594 screens)
5. Selma (Paramount)
$13.9 million, $31.5 million total, 4 weeks, +23% (2,235 screens).
6. Into The Woods (Buena Vista)
$8.7 million, $116.5 million total, 4 weeks, -9% (2,758 screens).
7. The Imitation Game (Weinstein Company)
$8.1 million, $51.6 million total, 8 weeks, +11% (1,611 screens).
8. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (Warner Bros.)
$6.0 million, $245.7 million total, 5 weeks, -36% (2,220 screens).
9. Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb (20th Century Fox)
$5.3 million, $106.2 million total, 5 weeks, -21% (2,437 screens).
10. Unbroken (Universal)
$5.0 million, $109.4 million total, 4 weeks, -39% (2,602 screens).
Domestic and international figures are actualized on Monday afternoons (excluding 4-day weekends) and courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com and other news outlets.