Analysts covering Hollywood releases are stunned beyond words. They never saw Clint Eastwood’s war drama American Sniper open with something close to $90 million in North America last weekend. Then they never saw it drop by only 28% in its second weekend and earn another $64 million. Such is the hysteria around American Sniper that Warner Bros. increased its theatrical count in North America by 150 for the second weekend. The movie is right now playing at 3,705 theatres in the domestic market which makes this the widest opening ever for an R-rated movie. I repeat, ever! American Sniper, which was made on a budget of a little less than $60 million, has earned $248 million worldwide which includes $200 million in North America alone. And it is only getting warmed up. Some reports are predicting that the movie could very well be the biggest hit of 2014 domestically, which would mean surpassing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 which is currently at $334 million. Some are even predicting a $400 million earnings from North America alone. This is simply incredible! No movie with a budget of less than $100 million ever earns such figures. Such extreme heights are meant for big-budget franchise films, not for a serious war movie based on true events. But Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper have teamed up to sell the American hero story to the audience along with some savvy marketing by Warner Bros. to defy the logic that Hollywood had been following so far. The success of American Sniper could very well change how studios perceive the market, for this proves that a good solid movie with a modest budget can also scale the heights which seemed unattainable till now. With the success of Zero Dark Thirty in early 2013, Lone Survivor in early 2014, and now American Sniper in early 2015 (which takes things on another level altogether), expect a few more war stories to get their own movies soon.
American Sniper retained its top spot comfortably despite three new releases this weekend. One of those new releases was Mortdecai, a movie made on a similar production budget of $60 million, but which is unlikely to earn even a tenth of the domestic earnings of American Sniper. Mortdecai opened at ninth place at the American box-office charts with just $4.1 million earnings, marking yet another low for Johnny Depp. Post the fourth instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean in 2011, Depp has been part of an avalanche of failures, which is refusing to stop. Mortdecai not only has the weakest domestic opening for a Johnny Depp led movie since then, it also has the worst opening weekend earnings to production budget ratio — 0.07x for Mortdecai as compared to (going chronologically since 2011) 0.11x for Rum Diary, 0.20x for Dark Shadows, 0.14x for The Lone Ranger and 0.11x for Transcendence. If the movie manages a stronger performance in the foreign markets then the studios could salvage something, but considering the terrible reviews, it is unlikely that its financial debacle can be prevented.
There are two more mixed stories from the weekend. The Jennifer Lopez starrer The Boy Next Door opened with an estimated $15 million which is a strong enough start for a movie made in just $4 million. The movie has been produced by Blumhouse Productions who master in such small budget flicks which give a more than decent return on investment. The movie’s reviews are terrible, but the presence of Jennifer Lopez has done enough to get a few interested in coming for the opening shows, and that is all what the producer needs when the investment to be recovered is itself so low. On the other hand, the animated movie Strange Magic produced by Lucasfilm with a story written by George Lucas and distributed by Disney crashed at the box-office. Giving this movie a theatrical release must have been part of some deal between Disney and Lucasfilm when the latter was purchased, for I can think of no reason why else would Disney make such a blunder. The movie, which probably deserved nothing more than a direct-to-video release, opened across 3,020 theatres in North America but managed to earn only $5.5 million over the weekend. It has now set the record for the lowest earnings for a film which has opened in more than 3,000 theatres. What a way to be remembered! The movie’s production budget is not known though such a wide release would have also added to the financial burden, and so it is safe to assume that the movie is a flop, and quite unworthy of the creator of Star Wars. Such a shame!
Here are the top 5 weekend earners at the US box-office (estimates):
1. American Sniper ($64.4 million; second weekend)
2. The Boy Next Door ($15.0 million)
3. Paddington ($12.4 million; second weekend)
4. The Wedding Ringer ($11.6 million; second weekend)
5. Taken 3 ($7.6 million; third weekend)