A record-setting weekend for one movie mortally wounded the box office prospects of another. “American Sniper” took in an estimated $105 million during its first weekend in wide release, obliterating the competition and siphoning money from other dramas screening at movie theaters across the country.
“We’re looking at something that is unprecedented,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Everything just hit at the right time for this movie.”
The Clint Eastwood-directed film, which stars Bradley Cooper as the highly decorated, deceased sniper Chris Kyle, enjoyed a string of good reviews and blessings in the run-up to its wide release (the film debuted in select North American markets Christmas Day). Last Tuesday, it claimed six Oscar nominations, including Best Actor and Best Director. That news helped expand the number of screens on which it was shown to more than 3,500 across America.
It also benefited from an aggressive, persistent advertising campaign. In the run-up to its opening weekend, Warner Bros., the studio that distributed “American Sniper,” poured an estimated $43 million into TV ads, more than twice the amount of the second-biggest TV spender and nearly as much as the film itself, which cost less than $60 million.
“Obviously they knew they were looking at a strong opening,” Contrino said. “They only do that if they see potential.”
Though the film was expected by industry insiders to win at the box office this weekend, the margin of victory surprised everybody. The previous record box office take during Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend was the Ice Cube and Kevin Hart comedy “Ride Along,” which grossed $48 million.
War movies, Contrino said, typically start slow and gather momentum as they stick around. For example, the star-studded “Saving Private Ryan” opened somewhat modestly, earning little more than $30 million its opening weekend before going on to a U.S. gross of more than $216 million.
“This opened up like a superhero movie,” Contrino said.
But the film’s massive success seems to have negatively affected its competitors. “Blackhat,” a much-publicized thriller about hackers starring Chris Hemsworth, pulled in a scant $4 million on its opening weekend.
“If there was a movie that directly suffered from 'American Sniper' breaking out, it was 'Blackhat,'” Contrino said. “They're both going after those male demos.
“When a movie is as big as 'American Sniper,'” Contrino added, “it's gonna have an impact on the market in general.”
The second- and third-highest grossing films of the weekend were “Paddington,” a live-action adaptation of Paddington Bear ($25 million), and “The Wedding Ringer” ($24 million), a comedy starring Kevin Hart. “Selma,” the critically acclaimed dramatization of Martin Luther King Jr.’s civil rights efforts in Alabama, took in more than $11 million. To date, it has grossed more than $29 million.