American Sniper smashes records with $90M weekend

Three words to describe this movie: Must See Film. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures
Three words to describe American Sniper: See This Film. Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures

By Lew Patton

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper ignited the holiday weekend box office, leaving January records behind as it made a stunning $90.2 million in three days.

The total easily topped the previous January high, James Cameron’s Avatar at $68 million in 2010. Warner Bros. estimates that American Sniper will make $105 million over the four-day Martin Luther King weekend, which would be another record.

“This is staggering. It’s blockbuster numbers in January, the sort of numbers usually reserved for summer films and superhero movies,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for Rentrak. “No one saw this coming. The film has been building an audience and blasting any projections all weekend.”

The $105 million tally is more than double what analysts were expecting, Dergarabedian says. It marks director Eastwood’s biggest debut, surpassing Gran Torino, which earned $29.5 million in 2008. American Sniper topped that with Friday’s $30.5 million opening. The estimated IMAX total on 332 screens for the four-day weekend is $11.5 million (yet another record).

American Sniper, with Bradley Cooper starring as Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle, initially opened in December to packed theaters in limited release — making nearly $3.4 million on a handful of screens in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. It got a boost from Thursday’s Oscar nominations, receiving six, including best picture and Cooper for best actor.

The film has maintained a coveted A-plus CinemaScore with audiences throughout its release.

Josh Gad and Kevin Hart’s The Wedding Ringer took second place with $21 million for the three-day weekend (an estimated $25 million for four days). The raunchy R-rated comedy is the fourth Hart film in a row to open with more than $20 million.

The comedy overcame a 33% critical approval rating on and scored 79% approval with audiences.

Live-action family film Paddington took third place with $19.3 million ($24 million projected for the holiday weekend). The film, based on the beloved bear star of the children’s books, scored well with critics (98% approval on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (87%) alike.

Liam Neeson’s Taken 3 fell to fourth after winning the box office last weekend. The film earned $14 million for three days and an expected $16.4 million for the long weekend.

Appropriately, director Ava DuVernay’s Selma rounded out the top five films with $8.3 million for the three-day weekend, and an estimated $10.3 million for the full MLK holiday.

If estimates hold up, this will be a record Martin Luther King weekend, with $240 million total through Monday, propelled by Sniper. That would beat 2009’s record MLK weekend of $231.5 million for the four days when Paul Blart: Mall Cop made its debut.

Perhaps the weekend’s only disappointment was the debut of the Chris Hemsworth-starring Blackhat, which earned $4 million for the weekend ($4.6 million for the four-day). The hacker film directed by Michael Mann scored a C-minus with audiences on CinemaScore.

Final numbers are expected Tuesday.