Box Office: 'Lone Survivor' Victorious With $38.5 Million Debut

UPDATED: "Frozen" sails past the $700 million mark globally, while "The Legend of Hercules" shows no muscle; "August: Osage County" beats "Her."

Winning over the minds and hearts of moviegoers in America's heartland, Peter Berg's Navy SEALs drama Lone Survivor opened to a huge $38.5 million in North America, far more than expected and the best showing of any post-9/11 war film.

The patriotic-themed pic, earning a coveted A+ CinemaScore, boasts the second-best debut of all time for the month of January after Cloverfield ($40.1 million). Lone Survivor was strongest in flyover states, led by Texas (as expected, Canada was weak). The film's cume is $38.9 million when accounting for its exclusive awards qualifying run in New York and Los Angeles.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, Lone Survivor is based on Marcus Luttrell's memoir about four SEALs sent on a dangerous mission to Afghanistan. (Wahlberg plays Luttrell.) Universal is releasing Lone Survivor domestically and in select foreign markets. Emmett/Furla Films produced the $40 million pic, which was financed in part by embattled Envision Films.

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"It's a great story about patriotism, survival and heroism, and incredible courage. It worked well everywhere, but Middle America really, really responded. The publicity and marketing effort was amazing, including supporting Marcus in reaching out everywhere to tell his story. Pete and Mark were everywhere, too," said Universal domestic marketing chief Nikki Rocco.

Lone Survivor marks a comeback for Berg after his pricey miss Battleship.

Disney's holdover Frozen fell to No. 2 with roughly $15 million, pushing its domestic total to north of $317 million. The tentpole, with an international cume of $394.6 million, sailed past the $700 million mark worldwide to end the weekend with $712.2 million in total ticket sales. For the first time, Frozen topped the weekend foreign chart, taking in $25.8 million.

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street did pleasing business in its third weekend, grossing $9 million for a domestic total of $78.6 million. Placing No. 3, the controversial film continues to do best on both coasts.

Millennium Films' new entry The Legend of Hercules followed with a weak $8.6 million, tying with holdover American Hustle for No. 4.

Distributed by Summit Entertainment, Hercules needed to do more considering its $70 million production budget. The epic, directed by Renny Harlin, receiving a lukewarm B- CinemaScore, is the first of two Hercules pics slotted for 2014.

American Hustle, from director David O. Russell, also remained strong as it crossed the $100 million mark in North America, ending its fourth weekend in nationwide release with a cume of $101.6 million.

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A number of award contenders expanding on the eve of Sunday's Golden Globes ceremony, including John Wells' August: Osage County and Spike Jonze's Her, both of which are now playing nationwide. In addition to benefiting from any Globe wins, contenders also wanted to have an increased profile when Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 16.

Osage County outperformed expectations, grossing $7.3 million to come in No. 7. The dysfunctional family drama, from The Weinstein Co., bested Her despite playing in far fewer theaters (905 versus 1,729). Similar to Lone Survivor, Osage County was fueled by a strong turnout in America's heartland. The adaptation of Tracy Letts' play pairs Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts for the first time.

"The success of the film clearly speaks to the popularity of Meryl and Julia," said TWC distribution chief Erik Lomis. "People are judging it on its own merits, whether or not they have seen the play."

Disney's awards hopeful Saving Mr. Banks placed No. 8, earning $6.6 million in its fourth weekend in nationwide release for a domestic total of $68.9 million.

Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, grossed a soft $5.4 million to come in No. 11.

"We had a very deliberate rollout strategy. Our strategy was to open nationwide before Academy Award nominations were announced so that we could pick up steam. This isn't about today's particular result, it's about feeding the film for upcoming weeks," said Warner Bros.' Jeff Goldstein, whose team also intends to up Gravity's theater count next weekend following Oscar nominations.

Among other award titles up for top awards at Sunday's Globes ceremony, Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis and Alexander Payne's Nebraska made their biggest push yet, although they aren't yet playing nationwide.

Llewyn Davis, released by CBS Films domestically, upped its theater count to a total of 729 locations, grossing $1.9 million for a domestic total of $9.3 million, surpassing the entire lifetime gross of the Coen's A Serious Man ($9.2 million).

Nebraska, expanding into a total of 521 theaters, grossed $8.1 million for a domestic total of $8.1 million for Paramount.

Elsewhere, the weekend wasn't a total wash for Warner Bros. as Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug crossed $800 million worldwide as it winds down. The sequel, however, won't likely match the $1 billion-plus earned globally by last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Desolation of Smaug has taken in $242.2 million domestically, where it is pacing behind the first film, and $566 million overseas for a total $808.2 million.

Desolation of Smaug has yet to open in China and Japan, where the first film collectively grossed roughly $70 million.

The big headline in China over the weekend was Universal's Despicable Me 2, which opened to stellar $13.8 million, the third-best opening of all time for an animated film after Kung Fu Panda ($16.2 million) and Ice Age: Continental Drift ($19.4 million). Universal said the debut was particularly noteworthy since the first Despicable Me didn't play in China. The sequel's worldwide total is now $935.1 million.