Sniper Dominates MLK Weekend; Blackhat Bombs Ugly
By John Hamann
January 18, 2015
Our first two big surprises of the box office year are upon us, as American Sniper leverages strong limited play, Clint Eastwood’s name, and a long weekend, to turn the January box office record book on its head. Blackhat, the $70 million thriller does the opposite, and bombs ugly this weekend.
What a big weekend it is, with three brand new wide releases and American Sniper platforming from four screens last weekend to an ultra-wide 3,555 venues this frame. Add to that 11 films expanding in one form or another following Oscar nominations and last weekend’s big opener, Taken 3, having another helping this weekend. New films this weekend include The Wedding Ringer, the latest buddy comedy with Kevin Hart, Paddington, the British import that had already earned more than $120 million before opening on our shores, and Blackhat, the new film from Michael Mann that stars Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth.
Our number one film of the weekend – by a mile – is American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood war flick starring Bradley Cooper. Analysts were looking for $40 million over four days, and instead American audiences turned out in droves, and the Warner Bros. release ended up earning more than double that amount in three days. This was another success story that was telegraphed by Thursday preview gross, as Sniper took in a surprisingly strong $5.3 million from preview screenings starting at 7 p.m. Taken 3 took in $1.6 million on Thursday on its way to a $39.2 million opening, and Interstellar earned $3.5 million on its way to $47.5 million. The Thursday preview figure remains elusive at targeting weekend grosses, but $5.3 million for American Sniper indicated big things were coming.
The Friday (combined with the Thursday preview figure) came in at an awesome $30.5 million, easily the biggest single day for the month of January and the 57th biggest opening day of all time. If American Sniper had reported only its Friday gross for the weekend, it would have been the 10th biggest January frame on the books. American Sniper ended up bigger than anyone imagined, and that was only Friday.
Over Saturday and Sunday, the $60 million film earned much more, and finished the three-day portion of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend with $90.2 million. Half of American Sniper's weekend ($45 million) breaks the January record - and so does the other half. Yes, it has more than doubled the former record holder for January, Ride Along, which earned a comparatively puny $41.5 million over the same weekend last year. The debut blows away Clint Eastwood’s biggest box office weekend, as Gran Torino was his high point in 2009 when it earned $29.5 million. Bradley Cooper is the only one without a new record - but only just barely, as Guardians of the Galaxy debuted with $94.3 million in August of 2014.
How did American Sniper manage such a completely dominant weekend? Warner Bros. played their cards wisely after seeing how strongly Sniper played for test audiences. They put it out in limited release at only four venues for 22 days. There, it set records for a movie in limited release, pulling in venue averages of $158,364, $169,227, and $144,880 before going wide in its fourth weekend. This result tells me than Sniper was one of the hottest tickets in New York and Los Angeles for weeks, allowing it to earn $3.4 million before going wide. Its per location average for this weekend was a mighty $25,374, which is an amazing hold considering the scale and massive numbers involved.