January usually sees a lot of Oscar nominated films have a wide release so as to benefit from the awards buzz. While the Oscar nominations do support a movie’s theatrical run, this is only part of the explanation for what we saw this weekend. American Sniper, the biopic on a sniper who fought in the Iraq war, tore apart the previous January box-office leaders to set a new opening record of $90.2 million in North America. To get a better understanding of how difficult it is to achieve such an opening in the month of January, compare it to the previous record holder, last year’s Ride Along which opened with $41.5 million. The opening of American Sniper is almost double of that! This opening is in fact in line with some blockbusters of last year like X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy which are essentially big budget summer flicks. No one expects an R-rated war drama movie to match up to superhero flicks. But American Sniper did, and that too with a relatively modest production budget of about $60 million. Warner Bros. has enough reasons to party hard, as such a beginning to the year would have hardly been guessed. The movie’s publicity has been fantastic, depicting the war life as well as the civil life of the protagonist and thus making his story all the more appealing. With his third Oscar nomination in a row, Bradley Cooper is becoming a massive crowd puller and undoubtedly his presence has played a huge part in the success of American Sniper. Then add to this the name of Clint Eastwood who as a director too remains a big draw. The 84-year old veteran is very likely going to see American Sniper become his biggest hit as a director, eclipsing Gran Torino which had earned $270 million worldwide after its release in December 2008. It’s been a case of a lot of factors going right for American Sniper, which has set it on the path to become a massive blockbuster so early in the year!
The second position at the weekend box-office was taken by The Wedding Ringer which opened with $21 million. It’s a decent start for a $23 million budget film, but it is lower than the films of 2014 that had Kevin Hart in it. These include Ride Along ($41.5 million), About Last Night ($25.6 million) and Think Like a Man Too ($29.2 million). Considering that such kind of comedy has a lesser following outside North America, The Wedding Ringer may just about break-even for the studio. Another wide release over the weekend was the British film Paddington. The movie earned $19.2 million in North America, which adds to its growing worldwide tally and takes it to $141 million. Considering its modest production budget of $55 million, this British film is already being termed a hit. The movie’s reviews too have been favourable which could give it a good run in the American theatres.
In all this excitement, Michael Mann’s Blackhart was totally forgotten. This thriller starring Chris Hemsworth was not publicized much, as probably the studio knew that this one was going to tank. Tank, it did! Made on a production budget of $70 million, the movie managed only $4 million earnings in the domestic market over the weekend. Universal Pictures would be badly hurt on this one, a disastrous flop so early in the year, that too on the same weekend that sees one of the big hits of the year. Taken 3 from last weekend fell sharply on its second weekend which was expected, but it is already running strong in the foreign markets. The movie has earned $160 million so far in worldwide earnings on which about $100 million is from the outside markets alone. The franchise is ending on a strong note it seems, at least as far as the finances go. Selma added another $8.3 million fittingly on the Martin Luther King holiday to take its domestic earnings tally to $26 million. Hopefully, the strong reviews on the movie would get more audience to the theatres. And finally, a last word, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies has crossed $800 million worldwide and is still counting…
Here are the top 5 weekend earners at the US box-office (estimates):
1. American Sniper ($90.2 million)
2. The Wedding Ringer ($21.0 million)
3. Paddington ($19.3 million)
4. Taken 3 ($14.0 million; second weekend)
5. Selma ($8.3 million; second weekend)