Box Office: 'The Revenant' Topples 'Star Wars' Friday for Fierce Weekend Battle

'The Revenant,' Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Revenant'

The bloody frontier epic — starring Leonardo DiCaprio — is performing far better than expected to find itself in a close race with 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' for the weekend crown.

In a surprise upset, Leonardo DiCaprio took down the new Death Star at the Friday box office in North America.

The Revenant, starring DiCaprio and directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, beat Star Wars: The Force Awakens with $14.4 million from 3,375 theaters. Force Awakens, now in its fourth weekend, took in $10.7 million from 4,134 locations for a massive domestic total of $781.1 million.

It's the first time since Force Awakens opened on Dec. 18 that it hasn't come in No. 1.

The Revenant and Force Awakens are now in a dead heat for the weekend crown, with both films expected to gross in the $37 million-$38 million range. Some have Revenant narrowly winning; others show Force Awakens pulling ahead.

Either way, the results are a major victory for DiCaprio and Inarritu on the eve of Sunday's Golden Globes ceremony, where The Revenant is up for best picture, best director and best actor in the drama categories.

Heading into the weekend, The Revenant was tracking to gross in the $20 million range. Force Awakens was expected to earn $40 million-$50 million, but like many other Christmas titles, is falling steeply this weekend (60 percent).

Still, Star Wars will claim a major win of its own sometime on Saturday in becoming the first film to ever cross the $800 million mark in North America. The J.J. Abrams-directed film, breaking numerous records all along the way, has already surpassed Avatar to rank as the top-grossing film in history in North America, not accounting for inflation.

Also this weekend, Force Awakens will march past the $1.669 billion grossed worldwide by Jurassic World to become the No. 3 title of all time behind Avatar ($2.78 billion) and Titanic ($2.19 billion), not accounting for inflation. And the film, from Disney and Lucasfilm, hasn't even opened in China, where it opened on Saturday to an estimated $33 million, shattering records.

From New Regency and Fox, The Revenant wasn't a cheap proposition, having cost $130 million to make. Nor is the R-rated film — a bloody, bruising frontier epic that also stars Tom Hardy — an easy sell.

The Revenant expanded nationwide on Friday after an impressive limited run in New York and Los Angeles. The film grossed a strong $2.3 million Thursday night as it began its nationwide expansion.

Last year, Inarritu's Birdman won the Oscar for best picture. This year's Academy Awards nominees will be announced next week. The Revenant marks the widest release of Inarritu's career to date; at its widest, Birdman played in 1,213 theaters, while Babel played in 1,251.

The Revenant will quickly surpass the domestic lifetime gross of every other film Inarritu has directed. Birdman is his top-grossing film to date with $42.3 million. It's also one of the better openings for DiCaprio.

Elsewhere, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg's Christmas comedy Daddy's Home is expected to place No. 3 with an estimated $13 million to $14 million, pushing its domestic total to $115 million.

Natalie Dormer-starrer The Forest, opening nationwide this weekend, opened to $5 million on Friday for a projected $11.7 million weekend. From Focus Features/Gramercy Pictures, the horror movie is expected to place No. 4.

In marketing The Forest, rated PG-13, Focus has targeted younger females and Hispanic moviegoers. The story follows a young woman who goes in search of her twin sister, who has vanished in Japan. She's eventually led to a legendary forest at the base of Mount Fuji where people go to die.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's comedy Sisters will round out the top five with an expected $7 million weekend for a domestic total approaching $75 million.

Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight and The Big Short, the financial dramedy directed by Adam McKay, are in a close race for No. 6. Both films are projected to gross roughly $6 million for the weekend.

Jan. 8, 1 p.m. Updated.

Jan. 8, 9:45 p.m. Updated.

Jan. 9, 7:45 a.m. Updated with Friday numbers.