Riding the positive buzz of six Oscar nominations, "American Sniper" shot to the top of the box office for a record setting weekend.
Clint Eastwood's wartime drama based on the autobiography of Chris Kyle earned an estimated $90.2 million as it expanded into wide release over the weekend. With an expected $105 million total over the Martin Luther King holiday, the film will shatter records both for the long weekend and the month of January. It's also Eastwood's largest-ever take for a wide release, topping the $29.5 million made by 2008's "Gran Torino."
Earning Oscar nods for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and a Best Actor nomination for star Bradley Cooper, "American Sniper" far exceeded early expectations. Co-produced and co-financed by Village Roadshow for under $60 million, projections put the wide release around $40 million. According to Variety, analysts compared the film's success to that of Cooper's other recent hit, "Guardians of the Galaxy," saying that social media buzz helped build support and interest.
The previous top-grosser for the MLK weekend was last year's Kevin Hart and Ice Cube comedy "Ride Along," which earned $48.6 million. Speaking of Hart, his new film "The Wedding Ringer" also set a January record. With $21 million over the weekend and an expected $4 million more over the extended holiday, the movie has the highest-grossing opening for an R-rated comedy during the first month of the year.
Unfortunately, another of the weekend's openers was hurt by "American Sniper's" runaway success. "Blackhart," directed by Michael Mann and starring "Thor's" Chris Hemsworth, earned a measly $4 million from 2,567 theaters, leading to what should be a $4.6 million MLK weekend. That's a huge loss considering the film's $70 million production budget, and it clocks in as the worst opening of Mann's career. Universal and Legendary Pictures hope that the international appeal of Mann and Hemsworth will help the movie's final numbers.