Angelina Jolie‘s World War II drama Unbroken and Disney’s Into the Woods both delivered big Christmas Day openings in a needed win for the film business, which has suffered a downturn at the box office since Thanksgiving (not to mention the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment).
From Universal, Unbroken grossed $15.6 million from 3,131 locations, marking the third-highest debut ever for Christmas Day after Sherlock Holmes in 2009 ($24.6 million) and Les Miserables in 2012 ($18.1 million), not accounting for inflation.
Unbroken, earning an A- CinemaScore and based on Laura Hillenbrand‘s best-selling biography, stars Jack O’Connell as World War II hero Louis Zamperini. The Universal film follows Zamperini as he’s stranded in the ocean after a plane crash and then captured and tortured as a prisoner of war.
Into the Woods wasn’t far behind, grossing an estimated $15.1 million from 2,440 locations. The adaptation of Stephen Sondheim‘s Broadway musical looks to continue Disney’s winning streak at the box office and stars Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, James Corden, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp. The movie received a B CinemaScore.
Both Into the Woods and Unbroken are now expected to earn north of $40 million over the long holiday weekend, well ahead of expectations. Holdover The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, earning $13.1 million on Thursday for a domestic total of $127.1 million, could still take the crown, however.
The other high-profile Christmas Day release was Sony’s The Interview, the controversial R-rated comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as two bumbling journalists hired by the CIA to assassinate North Korean president Kim Jong Un. Sony pulled the movie last week from its Dec. 25 release after the group behind the unprecedented hack attack of Sony threatened theaters.
However, after President Barack Obama criticized Sony for caving, the studio announced Tuesday it would release The Interview in more than 330 independent theaters and on VOD.
The movie won’t be a big grosser in theaters, considering its limited footprint and the fact that it was made available online Wednesday. (It was also quickly pirated.) On Thursday, The Interview took in $1 million to place No. 15 — as a way of comparison, it came in just behind another limited release, Bollywood blockbuster PK, which grossed $1.1 million from 272 theaters.
“Considering the incredibly challenging circumstances, we are extremely grateful to the people all over the country who came out to experience The Interview on the first day of its unconventional release,” said Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer.
After Unbroken and Into the Woods, the other two Christmas Day nationwide openers were Paramount’s The Gambler, starring Mark Wahlberg as a literature professor who has a secret life as a gambler, and Tim Burton‘s Big Eyes.
Rupert Wyatt directed The Gambler, which earned a better-than-expected $5 million from 2,478 theaters on Thursday.
Big Eyes, starring Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz, is playing in far fewer theaters and earned a so-so $1.5 million for the day from 1,307 locations to come in No. 12. The film, from The Weinstein Co., centers on artist Margaret Keane (Adams), whose work was claimed by her then-husband, Walter Keane.
Harvey Weinstein‘s shop still had plenty to celebrate; awards frontrunner The Imitation Game soared to No. 7 as it expanded into a total of 747 theaters, grossing $3.1 million on Thursday for a domestic total of $6.7 million.
Paramount’s Selma, opening in 19 theaters in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, earned a strong $317,000.
American Sniper, launching in only four theaters, turned in an especially impressive $240,000, the top Christmas Day limited opening of all time. Directed by Clint Eastwood, the movie stars Bradley Cooper as the late Chris Kyle.