January 17, 2015

EARLY FRIDAY BOX OFFICE: “American Sniper” Takes Out the Competition


OPENINGS:  Even though it technically opened last year, 2015 has its first blockbuster hit with AMERICAN SNIPER (Warners/Village Roadshow).  According to preliminary numbers at Deadline, Clint Eastwood’s newly-minted Best Picture nominee exceeded all expectations with $29.1M on Friday (including $5.3M from Thursday night screenings).  That one-day figure alone puts it ahead of all but 10 3-day January weekends (#10 is Eastwood’s own Grand Torino at $29.5M), and there’s no doubt that it will blast through the 4-day Martin Luther King weekend record of $48.7M set last year by Ride Along. Sniper may be hurt a tad by the NFL conference championship games on Sunday, but should still be near $70M by the end of the 3-day weekend, and at $75M+ with the holiday Monday included.  It’s an astounding level of success for an R-rated “serious” movie, with an excellent chance of beating Grand Torino‘s $148.1M to become the biggest hit in the 84-year old filmmaker’s half-century career.

Nothing else this weekend will touch American Sniper, but THE WEDDING RINGER (Screen Gems/Sony) had a fair start with $6.9M on Friday, which should give it around $19M for the 3-day weekend and $23M by Monday.  As Kevin Hart vehicles go, that’s nowhere near Ride Along, but puts it in a league with About Last Night, which opened with $25.6M and ended up at $48.6M.  With a low production cost of $23M (which becomes more like $75M with marketing costs added), and little international upside (even Ride Along made only 12% of its worldwide total outside the US), that may make Wedding Ringer a very mild success.

PADDINGTON (Weinstein), which sidestepped the obvious family holiday season to have mid-January to itself, is off to a decent start with $4.8M on Friday.  It should zoom with matinee audiences over the holiday weekend, and may end up slightly ahead of Wedding Ringer by Monday.  Paddington, though, will have a completely different trajectory than Wedding Ringer:  it’s a huge international hit ($122.2M in the bank already) and should be less front-loaded.  The only obstacle in its path is that Disney/Lucasfilm have the animated Strange Magic opening next week, which could cut into its longevity.

BLACKHAT (Universal/Legendary) is a flat-out disaster.  After a $1.4M Friday, it may have trouble reaching $5M by Monday, and will have to pray its use of Asian actors and locations will pay off in a massive way overseas to have any hope of recouping costs that will approach $200M with worldwide marketing included.  Aside from being a wide opening low point for director Michael Mann, Blackhat‘s failure shows once again that superhero franchise blockbusters don’t translate into anything like real star power for their stars, in this case Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth.

HOLDOVERS:  With the arrival of American Sniper, last week’s #1 movie TAKEN 3 (Europa/20th) sank like a stone, down 71% from its opening day to $4.3M.  The holiday weekend will cushion that a bit, but it will still be down 60% or more over the 3-day weekend, with perhaps $18M by Monday.  That will put it on track for around $100M in the US, not close to the $145M/$139.9M for the first 2 Takens in the US, but still profitable on a production cost reportedly under $50M, especially with $64.7M already earned overseas.

There are still a couple of holiday movies selling tickets, with THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (New Line/MGM/Warners) down 47% from last Friday to $1.3M and heading for $6-7M over the 4-day holiday (now neck-and-neck with The Desolation of Smaug), and NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB (20th) down 40% from last week for a $975K Friday and on its way to a $5-6M holiday weekend.

The bulk of the holdover news, though, was about the Oscar nominees.  Several of them expanded to exploit their nominations, but none of the nominees found particularly striking results.  The much-discussed SELMA (Paramount) eased off by 34% from last Friday’s wide opening to $2.5M, and despite the Oscars and the Martin Luther King holiday, it’s likely to be down about 20% for the 3-day weekend to $9-10M, with another $2-3M on Monday.  That will put it around $30M, and when all is said and done, it may wind up very near the $56.7M total of last year’s 12 Years A Slave.

THE IMITATION GAME (Weinstein) remains (apart from Sniper, of course), the Oscar nominee with the strongest public support.  It dropped only 14% from last Friday to $1.8M, and should have a $6-7M holiday weekend and be over $50M by Monday.

INTO THE WOODS (Disney), with only Best Supporting Actress and some technical nominations, was down 31% Friday-to-Friday to $1.7M, and should have a $8-9M holiday.  UNBROKEN (Universal/Legendary), out of the major Oscar races, fell 51% from last Friday to $1.2M and will be at $4-5M by Monday.

BIRDMAN (Fox Searchlight) roughly doubled its run to 471 theatres, and is headed for a 3-day weekend per-theatre average of around $3K.  THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (Focus/Universal) increased its count by 25% to 509 theatres, and should have a 3-day average near $2K.  FOXCATCHER (Sony Classics) more than tripled its release to 759 theatres, but may not have a 3-day average above $1250.  WHIPLASH (Sony Classics) widened to 189 theatres, for an average around $2K.

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (IFC) tripled to 15 theatres, and should have a $3500 3-day per-theatre average.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."