Box-Office Preview: 'American Sniper' Set to Beat 'Wedding Ringer,' 'Blackhat'

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Bradley Cooper in 'American Sniper'

Clint Eastwood's drama is among a number of films hoping for a boost from Thursday's Oscar nominations. Family film 'Paddington' is also opening over the long MLK holiday weekend.

After a record-breaking run in select theaters, American Sniper is poised to score the biggest nationwide opening of Clint Eastwood's career as a director when it expands into more than 3,200 theaters over the crowded Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper as the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, is expected to earn $45 million to $47 million over the four-day weekend for Warner Bros., although more bullish estimates have the movie clearing $50 million, meaning it has a shot of scoring the biggest opening ever for the month of January. Warners made the film with Village Roadshow.

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Eastwood's film, set during the war in Iraq, is among a number of awards contenders that could enjoy a box-office boost if it winds up scoring top Oscar nominations Thursday morning. Days after Julianne Moore won a Golden Globe for Still Alice, Sony Pictures Classics will open the Alzheimer's drama 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 potential Oscar contender that should see a box-office bump if nominated.

Also starring Sienna Miller, American Sniper debuted on Christmas Day in four theaters in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas — Kyle was from Texas — where it has done huge business, posting record-breaking locations averages and grossing $3.2 million to date. The $60 million movie is unique in appealing to both art house audiences and to more politically conservative moviegoers.

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To date, Grand Torino ($29.5 million) is Eastwood's top opening, 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. It's four-day take was $48.6 million.

Once again taking advantage of the MLK holiday, Hart returns to theaters this weekend in The Wedding Ringer. Although it won't match Ride Along (American Sniper will make life tough for everyone), Sony expects the comedy to open on par with Hart's About Last Night, which posted a three-day gross of $25.7 million. For the four days, Wedding Ringer could clear $30 million or more.

Hart stars opposite Josh Gad in the R-rated movie, which cost a modest $23 million to make and hopes to serve as counter-programming to other holiday titles and be a date-night offering. Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Ken Howard, Cloris Leachman, Jenifer Lewis, Mimi Rogers and Olivia Thirlby also star, with Jeremy Garelick directing.

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Wedding Ringer is expected to snag the No. 2 spot, followed by holdover Taken 3 and new family offering Paddington, based on the iconic bear. The British film has already opened in the U.K. and other foreign markets, grossing an outstanding $122.2 million to date. The Weinstein Co. is releasing the live-action/CGI hybrid in the U.S., where it's tracking to open in the high teens for the four days. (Great reviews could further boost Paddington's showing.)

Also opening is 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.

Despite its topicality in light of the hacking of Sony (reportedly by North Korea) and the star power of Chris Hemsworth, the film is only expected to open in the $10 million range, a major stumble considering Blackhat's $70 million production budget. Universal is distributing Blackhat for Legendary per their partnership. Tang Wei, Viola Davis, Holt McCallany and Wang Leehom also star.