Box-Office Shocker: 'American Sniper' Now Targeting $105M Debut

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Clint Eastwood's record-breaking film, landing six Oscar nominations, is galvanizing moviegoers in both red and blue states; Michael Mann's 'Blackhat' bombs, while Kevin Hart's 'The Wedding Ringer' finds itself in a close race with 'Paddington.'

Clint Eastwood's record-breaking American Sniper continues to astound at the North American box office, where it earned an estimated $90.2 million for the three-day weekend for a projected $105.2 million debut over the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend — double what it was expected to do and smashing numerous records.

That's the largest opening of all time for the month of January, as well as the top number ever for a non-tentpole, much less an R-rated modern-day war film. The previous best for a drama was The Passion of the Christ with $83.8 million. And the three-day haul of $90.2 million marks the No. 2 debut for an R-rated film after The Matrix: Reloaded ($91.8 million), not accounting for inflation.

Earning a coveted A+ CinemaScore in every category, Eastwood's movie is galvanizing moviegoers in both red states and blue states. It is expanding nationwide after nabbing six Oscar nominations on Thursday, including best picture and best actor (Bradley Cooper). Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow partnered on Sniper, based on the real-life story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and set over the course of the war in Iraq.

American Sniper first debuted on Christmas Day in four theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas (Kyle was from Texas). The $60 million movie, earning nearly $4 million in its limited run, continues to be unique in appealing to both art house audiences as well as more politically conservative moviegoers. Its total domestic gross through Monday is an estimated $108.6 million.

To date, Gran Torino ($29.5 million) is Eastwood's top opening as a director, while Kevin Hart's Ride Along, released a year ago on the same weekend, boasts the top opening for January with a three-day debut of $41.5 million. Its four-day take was $48.6 million.

Once again taking advantage of the MLK holiday, Hart returned to theaters this weekend in The Wedding Ringer, from Screen Gems. Wedding Ringer posted a three-day gross of $21 million from 3,003 theaters for a projected four-day debut of $25 million, the best showing for an R-rated comedy opening in January, not accounting for inflation. Sony said the film's performance is a triumph, considering it was up against juggernaut American Sniper.

Wedding Ringer won't match the $27.8 million debut of Hart's About Last Night over Valentine's Day and Presidents Day weekend in February 2014. That movie was likewise rated R, while Ride Along was rated PG-13.

Hart stars opposite Josh Gad in Wedding Ringer, which cost a modest $23 million to make and earned a promising A- CinemaScore.

For the four days, Wedding Ringer could lose the No. 2 spot to family film Paddington, which took in an estimated $19.2 million from 3,303 locations for the three-day weekend, but is expected to earn an estimated $25.6 million through Monday. Either way, Paddington's performance is a victory for The Weinstein Co., which had originally intended to open the film on Christmas Day.

Earning an A CinemaScore, the critically acclaimed British film, based on the iconic bear, has already launched in the U.K. and other foreign markets, grossing an outstanding $122.2 million to date (TWC only has U.S. rights).

Also opening this weekend was Legendary's Blackhat, director Michael Mann's big-budget action-thriller about a cyberattack on worldwide banking systems that the U.S. and China try to stop.

Blackhat is quickly proving to be the first box-office bomb of 2015, despite its topicality in light of the hacking of Sony (reportedly by North Korea) and the star power of Chris Hemsworth. The action thriller, earning a dismal C- CinemaSocre, came in No. 11 for the three-day weekend with only $4 million for a projected four-day debut of $4.6 million, a major stumble considering its $70 million production budget. Universal is distributing Blackhat for Legendary per their partnership. Tang Wei, Viola Davis, Holt McCallany and Wang Leehom also star.

American Sniper is among a number of awards contenders that could enjoy a box-office boost. On the heels of Julianne Moore's best actress win at the Golden Globes for Still Alice, Sony Pictures Classics is opening the Alzheimer's drama this weekend in 13 theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Ava DuVernay's Selma, heading into its second weekend in nationwide release, is another Oscar contender hoping for a box-office bump. It also hopes to benefit from the MLK holiday.

Selma is poised to come in No. 5 over the long weekend with a four-day gross in the range of $9.8 million from 2,235 theaters, bringing its domestic total to $27.6 million. Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment and Oprah Winfrey produced the drama, starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King. Jr. Paramount is distributing the film in North America.

Nabbing eight Oscar nominations, TWC's The Imitation Game saw big gains, landing at No. 6 with a three-day gross of $7.2 million for a projected four-day total of $8.8 million, putting its domestic cume at $52.4 million.

Jan. 17, 7:45 a.m. Updated with Friday numbers.

Jan. 18, 7:30. Updated with weekend projections.

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