Who needs a profoundly moving portrait of romance in the Information Age, or a sharply sketched character study from two of American cinema’s most celebrated auteurs, when you can watch Marky Mark careen through the air in dramatic slow-motion, a giant explosion billowing out behind him? Three movies from last month expanded onto quadruple-digit screens this weekend, but only one managed to draw real crowds. Despite near-universal critical acclaim, both Spike Jonze’s Her (which made $5.4 million on about 1700 screens) and the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (which made $1.8 million on about 7oo screens) underperformed during their first weekend in wider release. Did the former fall victim to Siri’s vicious smear campaign? Did audiences avoid the latter out of fear of having to correctly pronounce “Llewyn” to a ticket seller? This coming Thursday’s Oscar nominations may give the two films a boost, provided they score the expected nods. Don’t screw this up, AMPAS.
Reviews haven’t been quite as strong for Lone Survivor, the other December title that expanded this weekend, but that didn’t stop audiences from storming their local multiplexes to see it. The violent combat picture, starring Mark Wahlberg as the real-life Navy SEAL whose team was pinned down by Taliban troops in the hills of Afghanistan, easily topped the box office with a three-day haul of $38.5 million. According to Box Office Mojo, that’s the second-best January opening ever, only a couple million shy of what Cloverfield debuted to five years ago. (Though, technically speaking, Lone Survivor has been out for three weeks, having slipped into a pair of theaters right before New Year’s, in order to qualify for award consideration.) Strong word of mouth—the film earned an A+ from CinemaScore audiences, which is a better score than Gravity managed—and the usual lousiness of January alternatives probably played a role in Lone Survivor’s success. It also didn’t hurt that Universal sold the movie as an inspirational tale of courage under fire, rather than a grim war film about a failed mission.
Speaking of lousy January alternatives, the only other wide release of the weekend was The Legend Of Hercules, which bombed with $8.6 million—proof that audiences may not flock to see a well-received indie, but they’ll usually also have the sense to avoid the most horrid-looking of Hollywood product. (The real test of that theory arrives in a couple weeks when I, Frankenstein lumbers into theaters.) In general, the box office was dominated by 2013 holdovers: Second-place finisher Frozen added another $15 million to its gargantuan $317 million tally, while American Hustle ($8.6 million) crossed the $100 million barrier in its fifth week, and The Wolf Of Wall Street ($9 million) edged closer to the same mark in its third. Expect last year’s crop of acclaimed movies to hang around until the Oscar ceremony in March, after which audiences can cleanse their palette with fast cars, warring CGI armies, and Marlon Wayans’ topical response to The Conjuring.
For more detailed numbers, visit Box Office Mojo.