Lone Survivor Wallops Hercules at the Box Office
By John Hamann
January 12, 2014
Lone Survivor, the small war movie from Battleship director Peter Berg, trampled the big budget Legend of Hercules and melted Frozen this weekend as it completely dominated the box office.
Lone Survivor had to come a long way to get to #1 this weekend, and was lucky to even get made. Before we get into that, though, let’s look at the numbers. Lone Survivor got started via Thursday previews, where it earned $1.54 million from Thursday shows starting at 8 p.m., earning more than any other film on Thursday, despite the limited showings. The trend vastly improved on Friday, when the Universal picture earned a reported $14.4 million, but in reality, the Friday number was $12.9 million once we remove the Thursday take. Universal had to be simply ecstatic at that point. Only one other film that opened this early in January had pulled in more than $10 million on opening day (The Devil Inside - $16.8 million on its first Friday). In Lone Survivor’s case, Friday was expansion day, as this one had played in two theaters since Christmas Day for awards consideration, earning a couple of hundred thousand dollars since its debut.
With the big Friday for this non-horror release, the question was where it was going to end up compared to the top January openers ever. Cloverfield, which opened January 18, 2008, is number one with $40 million, but second spot was the re-release of Star Wars, which took in $35 million over the January 31st - February 2nd weekend in 1997 (as you can tell, films do not usually pop in January). To get to Cloverfield’s $40 million opening, Lone Survivor was going to need a weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) of more than 3.0. A score over 3.0 would mean that Lone Survivor would have to earn more than $12.9 million on Saturday, as Sunday box office is usually lower than the Friday gross unless your movie is for kids (Frozen’s multiplier was 4.8 this weekend).
With the film being based on a bestselling book, and having a built-in audience in the middle of the United States, Lone Survivor had an uphill battle to that same kind of multiplier for January. It managed an exceptional early-January Saturday score of $14.5 million (The Devil Inside’s Saturday was $11.8 million, Cloverfield’s was $13.9 million), and the Sunday was estimated at $9.6 million. That means Lone Survivor finishes the weekend with $38.5 million, good for second place all-time for the month of January.
Lone Survivor expanded to 2,875 theaters this weekend – a number Universal likely would have pushed higher – but with the holiday films still earning, screens are tough to come by. Regardless, Lone Survivor finished the weekend with a venue average of $13,395, ahead of Cloverfield’s $11,500 venue average, but below the Star Wars re-release average of $17,065, as the saddening of Star Wars was released on 2,104 venues. Lone Survivor cost $40 million to make, and to have almost achieved that total already – in the first weekend of January – is a simply fantastic result. Director Peter Berg was on the ropes after Battleship, a film that earned only $65 million domestically against a $209 million production budget. What people might not realize is that Battleship may have flopped at home, but it was huge overseas, grossing $237 million, for a worldwide total of $303 million. Yes, Universal would have had to lick their wounds following Battleship, but it was in no way the failure that some have pegged it as.