In one of the most stunning and shocking debut weekends in film history, American Sniper exploded in its first frame of wide release, taking in an estimated $90.2 million. After three weekends of sizzling reception and box office grosses in just four theaters, audiences were ready and willing to give the newly-minted Best Picture nominee their money.
With massive hype, many had predicted American Sniper would take the January weekend crown. But, next to nobody could have seen an opening this high. As estimates stand, American Sniper now has the second-best opening for an R-rated film in history, behind The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million) and ahead of The Hangover Part II ($85.9 million), which also starred Bradley Cooper. While those movies did burn off some demand by opening on Thursdays, that is still an unprecedented level for a film that was not a sequel.
Its massive opening was miles ahead of two hits from last January, more than double record-setter Ride Along ($41.5 million) and another true story from the Iraq War, Lone Survivor ($37.8 million). It’s also the biggest opening for a film in December, January and February. This opening even beats the five-day initial take of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies ($89.1 million), which also had 3D screens and universally beloved source material to boot.
This staggering opening is due to a number of factors. Foremost, tense trailers and commercials that sold both a riveting wartime drama and a personal family story at once appealed to a large audience, from both red and blue states. (Warner Bros. deserves a lot of credit for promoting it so well.) Furthermore, Bradley Cooper has a lot of box-office clout and his everyman appeal helped to draw in younger audiences. Plus, strong word-of-mouth from its weeks in limited release had crowds excited to come out on opening weekend. Its six Oscar nominations on Thursday, including Best Picture and Actor, were just icing on the cake. (Meanwhile, it only took two days for the film to become the highest-grossing Best Picture nominee this year.)
Sniper opened to a whopping $30.5 million on Friday (including $5.3 million from Thursday evening previews). It then surged about 14% to a $34.7 million Saturday and is slated to drop 28% to a $25 million Sunday. While sold-out showings likely had a spillover effect to the next day, one does not expect Sniper to hold as well on Sunday given the audience the two NFL games will receive. (Last year, Lone Survivor dropped 50% on the same date.) Estimates also have the film dropping 40% on Martin Luther King Day to earn $15 million. That’s a stunning $105.2 million opening.
One expects the final numbers will show a small dip, but this is a massive opening, nevertheless. A $250 million total seems assured, and the film could flirt with the $300 mark if legs are strong. With an A+ CinemaScore and sustained Oscar buzz, it could very well be one of 2014’s top three grossing films.