Weekend Box Office (January 16 - 19, 2015)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND In a box office shocker, Clint Eastwood's soldier drama American Sniper starring Bradley Cooper vaulted into nationwide release doubling expectations and shattering records in the process. Marketed and distributed brilliantly by Warner Bros., the R-rated pic soared to a towering $89.3M over the Friday-to-Sunday period, according to final studio figures, and a jaw-dropping $107.2M over the four-day period leading the box office to the largest Martin Luther King holiday weekend ever. The soldier story delivered a scorching $30,158 average over four days from 3,555 locations including 332 venues with IMAX screens. These were summer numbers in January!

It was the largest opening weekend of all-time for the entire December through February winter period. This was never expected as Sniper debuted bigger than tentpoles like Avatar and every Hobbit film despite not having any 3D surcharges. Including three weeks of platform play, the cume stands at $110.6M.

To say this weekend gross is astonishing would be an understatement as most industry insiders were expecting a three-day figure in the $40M range which itself would have been stellar. The all-time record for the biggest opening weekend during this month was Ride Along's $41.5M over three days from a year ago. And the best overall weekend gross ever in January was $68.5M from Avatar in 2010 over the New Year's holiday session Jan 1-3 in its third round. Sniper shot well ahead of both proving once again that for the right product, audiences will show up at any time of the year. The three-day figure edged out the $89.1M five-day debut weekend of the latest Hobbit film from last month and the four-day tally even beat the $106M that 2014's domestic box office champ Guardians of the Galaxy grossed last summer in its first four days in theaters.

The record weekend started with $30.3M on Friday including $5.3M from Thursday night pre-shows. Saturday climbed a healthy 14% to $34.5M while Sunday dropped 29% to $24.4M. Sunday's NFL conference championship games offered a distraction to part of the target audience. Warners saw a 26% drop on Monday to $17.9M for the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. $10.6M of the four-day gross (10%) came from IMAX venues.

Many factors contributed to the sizzling hot performance. Certainly Eastwood has a loyal fan base and his Gran Torino bowed to $29.5M in January 2009 after its own successful platform run. Bradley Cooper provided on-screen starpower and was key in broadening the film's appeal to women and younger adults. The 84-year-old double Oscar winner's pics normally skew very old. The nationwide expansion was planned for one day after Academy Award nominations were to be announced and Sniper picked up six nods including Best Actor and Best Picture which just added to the must-see buzz. Warners did a masterful job executing the marketing especially with an assortment of truly effective and engaging TV spots. Reviews were mostly very good and the film tapped into American patriotism with a soldier's true story, especially at a time when real-life news events were putting people on high alert.

Audiences polled by CinemaScore loved American Sniper as it earned a glowing A+ not just overall, but across each of the four quadrants. Studio data showed that males made up 57% of the crowd and 63% were over 25 which was a lower rate than Eastwood films normally see. Sniper also had the distinction of needing only two days of wide release to jump from being the lowest grossing Best Picture nominee this year to being the top one.

Among other records, American Sniper was the best career debut ever for both Eastwood and Cooper. Plus it came within a hair of becoming the biggest opening weekend of all-time for R-rated films. The Matrix Reloaded has held that mark for nearly 12 years and will keep the title with $91.8M after a Thursday launch in May 2003. Among dramas about the U.S. military which open in limited release in December for Oscar consideration and then expand nationwide in January, American Sniper's opening wide weekend was as much as Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty, and Black Hawk Down's combined!

The road ahead is bright for Sniper which opened in the same range as some of last summer's biggest tentpoles like Godzilla plus the Spider-Man and X-Men sequels. With Oscar buzz, audience praise, and mild competition, Eastwood's smash hit will continue to shatter box office records in the days and weeks to come, smashing $200M.

The kidpic Paddington got off to a good start with families opening in second place with $25.5M over the Friday-to-Monday holiday period. Averaging a respectable $7,718 from 3,303 locations, the PG-rated comedy fared very well with critics and audiences alike earning solid reviews plus an A grade from CinemaScore. A lack of options for younger children helped as did a school holiday weekend. Paddington's debut was almost identical to the animated film The Nut Job's from this same weekend last year. That one debuted to $25.7M over four days.

Last year's hottest comedy star Kevin Hart took third place with his latest offering The Wedding Ringer which debuted well to $24M over four days from 3,003 locations for a strong $8,006 average. The three-day take was $20.6M. It was the widest debut ever in a lead role for the funnyman but still came in below the openings of his three hits from last year including Ride Along which bowed on top this same weekend with double the numbers at $48.6M. Unlike those other films, the R-rated Ringer did not feature any big names as co-stars. Budgeted at just $23M, The Wedding Ringer should go on to be a moneymaker thanks in part to Hart's star wattage and dedicated promotional push on the campaign trail. Audiences liked what they got as the CinemaScore grade was a good A-.

Liam Neeson got shoved aside by Sniper as his number one hit Taken 3 tumbled in its second weekend from first to fourth place with $17.1M. The Fox hit has banked $65.8M to date and the three-day portion collapsed by 63%. Paramount's acclaimed Selma followed with $13.9M over the long weekend with the three-day figure off 23% in its second session of wide play. Despite rave reviews, an Oscar nod for Best Picture, and this being MLK weekend, the Oprah-backed film still is not bringing out large crowds and averaged $6,197 over four days. Cume is $31.5M after 11 days of national release which is less than what the Jackie Robinson drama 42 grossed in just its first five days.

With its three Academy Award nods, Into The Woods took in $8.7M lifting Disney's total to $116.5M. Best Picture contender The Imitation Game followed with $8M. The Weinstein Co. has collected $51.6M to date.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies fell to $6M giving Warner Bros. $245.7M which is roughly equal to the cume that The Desolation of Smaug had at the same point last year after 34 days. Fox's sequel Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb took in $5.3M boosting the cume to $106.2M. Angelina Jolie's Unbroken followed with $5M for Universal for a new sum of $109.4M.

Chris Hemsworth tried to become a solo action anchor but failed miserably with the cybercrime thriller Blackhat which was ignored by moviegoers and opened outside of the top ten. The R-rated pic debuted to just $4.5M from 2,567 locations for a wimpy $1,750 average over four days. Reviews were bad and the few who did come out and pay to see it also were disappointed as evidenced by its lousy C- CinemaScore. Luckily, Hemsworth will rebound in May when he joins his super hero pals in Avengers: Age of Ultron hoping to shatter records.

The top ten films grossed $220.7M over the four-day MLK weekend which was up 24% from last year when Ride Along opened at number one with $48.6M; and up a stellar 76% from 2013's holiday when Mama debuted on top with $32.1M. It was the biggest MLK weekend in box office history breaking the record set in 2009.

Compared to four-day projections, American Sniper more than doubled my $43M forecast while Paddington came close to my $23M prediction. The Wedding Ringer opened under my $28M projection and Blackhat came in below my $10M forecast.

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Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Boy Next Door, Strange Magic, and Mortdecai all open.

# Title Jan 16 - 19 Jan 9 - 11 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 American Sniper $ 107,211,457 $ 579,518 3,555 4 $ 30,158 $ 110,636,235 Warner Bros.
2 Paddington 25,494,139 3,303 1 7,718 25,494,139 Weinstein Co.
3 The Wedding Ringer 24,042,152 3,003 1 8,006 24,042,152 Sony
4 Taken 3 17,052,567 39,201,657 -56.5 3,594 2 4,745 65,839,484 Fox
5 Selma 13,850,087 11,307,394 22.5 2,235 4 6,197 31,514,117 Paramount
6 Into The Woods 8,705,610 9,554,755 -8.9 2,758 4 3,156 116,459,279 Disney
7 The Imitation Game 8,016,134 7,213,862 11.1 1,611 8 4,976 51,622,442 Weinstein Co.
8 Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies 5,979,302 9,377,118 -36.2 2,220 5 2,693 245,656,417 Warner Bros.
9 Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb 5,286,986 6,718,622 -21.3 2,437 5 2,169 106,235,092 Fox
10 Unbroken 5,022,265 8,170,305 -38.5 2,602 4 1,930 109,364,895 Universal
11 Blackhat 4,491,010 2,567 1 1,750 4,491,010 Universal
12 Annie 2,991,855 4,750,304 -37.0 1,585 5 1,888 83,171,867 Sony
13 Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 2,287,297 3,765,893 -39.3 1,221 9 1,873 332,930,936 Lionsgate
14 The Woman in Black 2 1,944,380 4,648,460 -58.2 1,392 3 1,397 25,131,953 Relativity
15 Birdman 1,870,471 589,859 217.1 471 14 3,971 28,596,464 Fox Searchlight
16 Wild 1,735,872 2,677,814 -35.2 764 7 2,272 33,291,325 Fox Searchlight
17 Spare Parts 1,610,714 440 1 3,661 1,610,714 Lionsgate
18 Big Hero 6 1,596,968 2,308,936 -30.8 739 11 2,161 216,615,498 Disney
19 Inherent Vice 1,364,597 2,773,260 -50.8 653 6 2,090 6,680,541 Warner Bros.
20 The Theory of Everything 1,178,897 673,509 75.0 509 11 2,316 27,496,843 Focus
Top 5 $ 187,650,402 $ 77,611,229 141.8
Top 10 220,660,699 104,708,370 110.7
Top 20 241,732,760 120,730,543 100.2
Top 20 vs. MLK 2014 241,732,760 205,517,613 17.6

Last Updated: January 20, 2015 at 6:30PM ET

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