Box Office: ‘American Sniper’ makes history with an astounding $90 million

It is almost impossible to describe how astounding the box office performance of “American Sniper” has been this weekend.  In 3,555 theaters, an R-rated biopic about a famed U.S. marksman (Chris Kyle) directed by an 84-year-old legend (Clint Eastwood) and featuring only one recognizable star (Bradley Cooper) grossed $90 million from Friday to Saturday.  The film, which opened in limited release in December, currently has an overall gross of $93.6 million.  

While the six Oscar nominations certainly didn't hurt in growing interest for the drama, Warner Bros. marketing campaign was an exemplary effort which made the movie look more stylish than it is and focused on the relationship between Kyle and his wife which opened the subject matter up to different audiences. “Sniper” is now the no. 1 January opening of all-time and the second biggest R-rated opening after “The Matrix Reloaded” in 2003.  It also stands at no. 40 among all-time openings, but some context. That means it debuted bigger than “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” “Skyfall” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”  It's expected to at least hit $110 million by EOD Monday and a $300 million domestic tally is not out of reach.

When one film dominates moviegoer's attention its often hard for other films to get a piece of the pie, but the no. 2 and no. 3 movies this weekend found a way.  

Kevin Hart and Josh Gad's comedy “The Wedding Ringer” came in behind “Sniper” with $21 million over its first three days. That's slightly less than pre-release polling indicated, but it should still hit $25 million by the end of the four-day frame and has to be looked at as a success considering “Sniper's” dominance.  The film also earned an A- Cinemascore rating which should help its long term playability.  

The Weinstein Company has another hit on its hands (more on that later) with the family film “Paddington.”  Riding strong reviews, the live-action CG-animated hybrid took in $19.2 million and strong word of mouth could help it reach $80 million plus.  “Paddington” has no real family competition until “Spongebob: Sponge out of Water” opens on Feb. 6.

“Taken 3” landed in fourth with a massive 64.2% drop from its debut weekend earning another $14 million for $62.8 million in just 10 days. It's tough to see the third installment of the “Taken” series matching its predecessors $100 million + grosses at this point.

Despite a Best Picture nomination, Ava DuVernay's “Selma” dropped from no. 2 to no. 5 with another $8.3 million and $25.9 million to date.  That's just an 26% drop from its first “wide” weekend, but many thought the fact the film centers on a key moment of Dr. Martin Luther King's life, the attention over the Oscar controversy and its A+ Cinemascore would lead to either a flat weekend or an actual increase.  

Before reviewing how the other best picture nominees fared it's necessary to note Michael Mann's “Blackhat” was obliterated by “Sniper” in its debut. Starring Chris Hemsworth, the cyber thriller earned just $4 million.  Why Universal and Legendary decided to keep “Blackhat” on this date once “Sniper” showed how potent it was in limited release on Christmas is puzzling.  With a reported $70 million production budget, the movie will need to ride Chris Hemsworth's popularity overseas to come anywhere near break even.

Among Best Picture players still in theaters, “The Imitation Game,” The Weinstein Company's biggest hit since “Philomena,” dropped a scant .03% to earn another $7.1 million and hit $50.7 million in the U.S. “Birdman,” which tied “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with the most nominations with nine, jumped 164% after adding 243 theaters for another $1.5 million and $28.2 million so far. “The Theory of Everything” earned another $906,000 for $27.2 million. Sony Classics' “Whiplash” found $412,000 for $6.6 million and summer release “Boyhood” jumped back into just 136 theaters for another $243,000 and $24.6 million to date.

Among other limited releases, “Still Alice,” which features Julianne Moore's Oscar nominated performance, debuted in 12 theaters with just $282,000 or a good, but not great $17,667. Sony Classics will no doubt hope the returns increase as Moore is expected to take home the SAG Award, BAFTA and, eventually, Oscar in the coming weeks.

Final box office returns will not be released until Tuesday following the Martin Luther King Day holiday.