American Sniper Shoots for the Skies with $90.2 Million Opening

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American Sniper Clip

The extended Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday weekend got off to a great start thanks to a number of new records set by Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (Warner Bros.), starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Coming off its six Oscar nominations on Thursday, it expanded into 3,555 theaters, which already was the widest release for a Clint Eastwood movie, after grossing $3.5 million in its four-theater platform release in New York and L.A.

Grossing $30.5 million on Friday (including Thursday night)–a new January single day and opening day record–American Sniper ended up with an estimated $90.2 million in its first three days, more than doubling the previous January opening weekend records set by last year’s Ride Along, starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. That averages to about $25,000 per theater, and to put that into perspective, it is on par with anticipated sequels like The Matrix ReloadedStar Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

It should add another $15 to 20 million on Monday, pushing it past the $100 million mark in four days of wide release, and just like that, it instantly becomes the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee. Considering its “A+” CinemaScore, it’s looking good that the movie will end up with over $220 million. Unfortunately, that amount is added onto the 2014 box office since American Sniper platformed on Christmas Day, but it still would give Warner Bros. their fourth $200 million movie for last year.

Either way, it’s easily 84-year-old filmmaker Clint Eastwood’s biggest movie to date in his 60-year career, matching the total gross of some of his biggest movies to date in a single weekend, and it should become his highest-grossing movie of all time once it passes Gran Torino‘s $148 million. 

I’m not sure if there’s a record on file for a movie’s biggest jump in gross from one weekend to the next, but American Sniper‘s 15,466% rise from last weekend’s $579,000 to this week’s $90.2 million should take that prize as well. 

The last-minute unconventional decision to open Eastwood’s drama into 332 IMAX screens paid off, as it grossed a projected $11.5 million from those showings, surpassing Avatar‘s previous MLK weekend record of $9.7 million. It’s also bested Ridley Scott’s Prometheus as the biggest IMAX record for an R-rated movie.

After opening internationally over the holidays, where it has grossed $122 million, the live-action movie based on the popular children’s book bear Paddington (The Weinstein Company), starring Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Nicole Kidman and the voice of Ben Whishaw, opened in North America into 3,303 theaters where it took advantage of the long weekend to gross about $19.3 million in its first three days.  It should do well on Monday with schools out to end up somewhere in the $25 to 26 million range over the four-day holiday.

Also released on Friday, Kevin Hart was paired with Josh Gad for the comedy The Wedding Ringer (Screen Gems/Sony), which opened with a solid $21 million in 3,003 theaters or nearly $7,000 per location. It’s probably good for another $4 million on Monday, which will put it into a photo finish for second place.

Amidst controversy over its minimal love by the Academy in terms of Oscar nominations, the appropriately-timed Martin Luther King, Jr. drama Selma (Paramount), starring David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Common, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth and Oprah Winfrey, dropped to fifth place with $8.3 million (down 27%) although it should be able to make up for it on Monday with the holiday celebrating MLK. It has grossed $26 million not including Monday.

After a slammin’ opening weekend, Liam Neeson’s action sequel Taken 3 (20th Century Fox) took a plunge in its second weekend, dropping 64% to fourth place with $14 million and a domestic total of $62.8 million. 

After receiving its own share of Oscar nominations, the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company), starring nominees Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, added another $7.2 million to its domestic total of $50.8 million, essentially making the same over the three days as it did last weekend, allowing it to remain in sixth place.

The musical Into the Woods, starring chronic Oscar nominee Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick and James Corden, took in $6.5 million over the three-day weekend, dropping to seventh place with a domestic total of $114.3 million through Sunday and an estimated $116.1 million including the Monday holiday.

With so many new movies, Peter Jackson’s  The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (New Line/WB) dropped to eighth place with $4.9 million (down 48%) with a domestic total of $244.5 million as it moves closer to the Top 5 of 2014.

Angelina Jolie’s war drama Unbroken (Universal), which scored a few technical Oscars, took ninth place with $4.3 million over the three-day weekend (down 48%) with a North American total of $108.6 million not including Monday. 

Filmmaker Michael Mann returned to theaters with his cyber-thriller blackhat (Universal), starring Chris Hemsworth and Viola Davis, which is the first big bomb of the year with just $4 million in its first three days, significantly less than $2,000 per theater. Considering that it cost a reported $70 million to make, making less than $5 million in its first four days is not looking good for it recouping its money unless it can make up for it overseas.

The Top 10 grossed just under $180 million over the three-day weekend which is more than last year’s MLK weekend when the Top 10, including Kevin Hart’s record-setting Ride Along, grossed that amount over four days.

After Julianne Moore’s Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for Best Actress, the Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics), co-starring Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Alec Baldwin, was released into 16 theaters where it grossed $212,000 or $17,667 per theater.

Other Oscar nominees got significant bumps in business with Bennet Miller’s Foxcatcher adding 522 theaters and adding another $1.1 million to its take of $10 million. Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash added 120 theaters and $412,000 to its total gross of $6.6 million with plans to expand it nationwide into 1,000 theaters on Friday. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood and The Theory of Everything also added a hundred theaters to capitalize on their higher profile due to Golden Globe wins and Oscar nominations.