Oscar-Nominated ‘American Sniper’ Wins Top Box Office Position

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“American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s war-drama that’s nominated for six Oscars, was the top-grossing movie in the U.S. and Canada over the weekend, collecting $90.2 million in ticket sales to set a record for January.

“The Wedding Ringer” came in second with weekend sales of $21 million for Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems, industry researcher Rentrak Corp. said Sunday in a statement. Weinstein Co.’s “Paddington” collected $19.3 million.

Eastwood’s movie surprised the industry by reaping amounts usually not seen until summer weekends, helping kick off a year that’s expected to haul in at least $11 billion for the first time on the back of new entries from past successful franchises including “Star Wars,” “Terminator” and “Jurassic Park,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Rentrak. The three-day take for “American Sniper” was a record for a January weekend, surpassing the $68.5 million brought in by “Avatar” over the first weekend of 2010.

“No one saw this coming. This really obliterated expectations,” Dergarabedian said of Eastwood’s movie. “He’s an octogenarian and he’s still rocking it.”

In a crowded box office over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, “American Sniper” benefited from Oscar nomination buzz. The Warner Bros. film entered the weekend after picking up Academy Award nominations on Thursday, including best picture and best actor for Bradley Cooper.

Clint’s Biggest

This weekend marked the biggest box-office draw of Eastwood’s career, eclipsing the $29.5 million that “Gran Torino” captured in January 2009, Dergarabedian said. On Friday alone, “American Sniper” took in $30.5 million, he said.

“It’s amazing that at this stage of his career to be at the forefront of the zeitgeist and a film that he created is the No. 1 movie,” the analyst said in a telephone interview. “Very few directors or artists can aspire to such longevity and relevance at this point in their career.”

“American Sniper” follows the story of Chris Kyle, a lethal sniper in the Iraq War, played by Cooper. Based on Kyle’s 2012 memoir of the same name, the film explores the physical and psychological trauma of combat in the Iraq War. Sienna Miller and Luke Grimes co-star.

“This is a cultural phenomenon,” said Dan Fellman, the president of domestic distribution for Warner, who described the film as the first “real” superhero movie. “It has touched the heart and souls of people in small towns, cities, red states, blue states. People have identified with it and they want to see it.”

War Movies

Projected to generate $57 million in weekend sales by researcher Boxoffice.com, “American Sniper” is the third consecutive war drama to open on a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The Regal Entertainment cinemas in South Gate, California, were offering “American Sniper - An Imax Experience” for $18.50 a ticket on Jan. 16.

It received a 73 percent positive rating on Rottentomatoes.com, which aggregates critics’ responses.

“The Wedding Ringer” was forecast to collect $29 million, said Boxoffice.com.

The comedy, which opened over the weekend, features Kevin Hart as a best man for hire. The film garnered a 33 percent positive rating from critics on Rottentomatoes.com.

During the MLK day weekend last year, Hart’s film “Ride Along” topped box-office sales, according to Box Office Mojo, another researcher.

Bear Market

“Paddington,” another new film, was adapted from a children’s book in which a bear finds his way into the home of the Browns, played by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins. With the help of his new family, Paddington must confront an evil museum director, played by Nicole Kidman, who wants to stuff and mount the bear.

The family-friendly movie received a 98 percent favorable rating on Rottentomatoes.com.

Also among new films, Universal’s “Blackhat” took in $4 million to place 10th over the weekend. From director Michael Mann, the thriller stars Chris Hemsworth as a convicted hacker, released from prison to help prevent a global cyberattack. Viola Davis and Tang Wei co-star.

The film received a 32 percent positive rating on Rottentomatoes.com. Boxoffice.com had forecast sales of $11.5 million.

Liam Neeson’s third go-round as Bryan Mills in “Taken 3” returned for a second weekend, placing fourth with sales of $14.1 million. Framed for the murder of his wife, Mills runs from the police while hunting down the real killer. Boxoffice.com had forecast sales of $19.5 million for 21st Century Fox Inc.

The annual box-office record is $10.9 billion in 2013. Ticket sales fell to about $10.4 billion last year, Dergarabedian said.

Weekend sales for the top 10 films percent rose 22 percent to $179.7 million from a year earlier, according to Rentrak. The following table has U.S. movie box-office figures provided by studios to Rentrak. The amounts are based on gross ticket sales for Jan. 16 to Jan. 17, with estimates for Sunday.

                     Rev.    Pct.            Avg./    Total
Movie               (mln)    Chg. Theaters  Theater   (mln) Wks
1 American Sniper   $90.2   15,466  3,555  $25,374   $93.6  4
2 Wedding Ringer     21.0     --    3,003    6,993    21.0  1
3 Paddington         19.3     --    3,303    5,839    19.3  1
4 Taken 3            14.1    -64    3,594    3,909    62.8  2
5 Selma               8.3    -27    2,235    3,714    26.0  4
6 Imitation Game      7.2      0    1,611    4,464    50.8  8
7 Into The Woods      6.5    -32    2,758    2,372   114.3  4
8 Hobbit              4.9    -48    2,220    2,189   244.5  5
9 Unbroken            4.3    -48    2,602    1,640   108.6  4
10 Blackhat           4.0     --    2,567    1,571     4.0  1

Top 10 Films Grosses

This Week Year Ago Pct. (mln) (mln) Chg. =================================== $179.7 $146.9 22.4

Year-to-date Revenue

2015 2014 YTD YTD Pct. (mln) (mln) Chg. =================================== $618 $598 3.4 Source: Rentrak Corp.