Look, everyone pretty much knew that American Sniper was going to be a hit. It did spectacular business in limited release a month ago, and expanded into wide release around the same time as last year’s military-themed hit, Lone Survivor. It has a great trailer. It has Bradley Cooper brandishing a big rifle. It’s called American Sniper. Seems like a no brainer, right? But even the most optimistic of box-office projections didn’t account for the barrels and barrels of money Clint Eastwood’s wartime biopic ended up taking in over the MLK Day holiday weekend. Estimates are putting the film’s three-day tally at a jaw-dropping $90.2 million dollars—the kind of haul one expects of superhero tentpole releases, not of R-rated award-season dramas. And as Box Office Mojo helpfully points out, the film made its money without the help of inflated 3D pricing, meaning that it probably sold more tickets in its first weekend than, say, Captain America: The Winter Soldier did. Who needs imaginary super soldiers when you have (reportedly way more shitty and hateful than Bradley Cooper makes them look) real ones?
American Sniper’s colossal showing broke a bunch of records, more than doubling the grosses of the previous January first-weekend record-holder (last year’s Ride Along, which opened with $41.5 million) and trailing only The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million) on the list of biggest R-rated debuts. And it’s obviously the best opening weekend of Clint Eastwood’s career. (Has a film directed by an octogenarian ever made this kind of dough out the gate?) Surely, the slew of Oscar nominations the film earned on Thursday contributed to its success, though the fact it has already made more than most of the other Best Picture nominees combined suggests that people were going to see this thing whether or it not it got the Academy’s stamp of approval. (Like Lone Survivor, it earned an “A+” CinemaScore.) However one feels about the film’s stance on war and soldiers, it’s refreshing to see an original property, pitched at adults, make the kind of money that only comic-book and YA adaptations seem capable of earning anymore.
Though it may seem as though American Sniper was the only film audiences watched this weekend, a few other titles managed to do solid business as well. The latest Kevin Hart vehicle, The Wedding Ringer, overcame its sheer awfulness to claim $21 million over the holiday weekend. That’s about half of what Ride Along made a year ago—but, remember, Ride Along wasn’t going up against an unexpected blockbuster. For those who couldn’t quite convince themselves that Bradley Cooper blowing away insurgents (and little kids) is fun for the whole family, there was Paddington. The reportedly not-awful talking-bear film, which has already done well overseas, opened to $19.3 million—just fine for January kiddie fare.
The rest of the box-office chart was filled out by nose-diving January winners (like Taken 3, which made two-thirds less than what it did last weekend, when it opened) and December holdovers (like Selma, which added $8.3 million to its $25 million total, probably thanks to both its Best Picture nomination and the fact that this was MLK weekend). That left little room, alas, for Michael Mann’s divisive Blackhat, which rounded out the top ten with a truly abysmal $4 million. That’s Mann’s lowest opening since 1986’s Manhunter, and a truly disheartening flop from a director whose distinctive, expressionistic approach to Hollywood genre cinema should be encouraged, not ignored. Here’s a thought: Now that everyone has made a gigantic smash out the new film from one action-oriented auteur, how about rescuing the box-office prospects of another’s? It’s not too late to save Blackhat! (Note: It may be too late to save Blackhat.)
For more detailed numbers, visit Box Office Mojo.