Clint Eastwood made a deeply complex portrait about soldiers, one that explores the psychological trauma that affects both those who fight wars and their families. Naturally, it made Marvel money. “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper as noted Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, surprised many box office prognosticators by not only making a lot of money but making all the money. The drama grossed $89.5 million over the three day weekend, and $105.3 million over all four holiday days — almost identical, in fact, to the grosses of “Guardians of the Galaxy” over the summer.
It was by far the biggest January opening ever; in fact, one of the few records it didn’t smash was the biggest opening ever for an R-rated film. That honor still goes to “The Matrix Reloaded,” which netted $91.8 million back in 2003.
Word of “American Sniper”’s over-performance inevitably led to some culture war tussling. Though the film holds a 74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, it has come under fire by those who see it as a jingoistic recruitment film, if not an apologia for the Iraq War. (Our own take is that it avoids these problems by focusing on what fighting does to Kyle’s psyche. It’s perhaps not anti-war, but neither is it pro-war.) That said, one must wonder how many went to see it knowing it was a conflicted look at soldiering, and one that steadfastly denied the pleasure of our hero bagging foreigners.
Whatever the reason — as we’ll no doubt be arguing over well past Oscar night — “American Sniper”’s success as “Selma”’s loss. Coming into its second weekend of wide release, which also happened to end with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “Selma” — Hollywood’s first film on the civil rights leader — failed to balloon after an underperforming national debut. It made $8.3 million, which is only a 26 percent from last weekend but still a discouraging tally for a film that would seem to be topical on many levels. That it only scored two Oscar nominations, including a token one for Best Picture, didn’t help.
Meanwhile, Kevin Hart’s latest vehicle, “The Wedding Ringer,” did about half the business “Ride Along” did a year ago, grossing a respectable but lacking $21 million. In better news, the talking CGI bear movie “Paddington” did better than expected, raking in $19.2 million, following a successful run in its native home of England.
The weekend’s major loser, though, was Michael Mann’s cyber thriller “Blackhat.” Starring Chris Hemsworth and Viola Davis as agents globetrotting while hunting down online crooks, it made a pitiful $4 million from over 2500 theaters. Mann hasn’t always been lucky with the box office, with his monster hits (“The Last of the Mohicans,” “Collateral”) big enough to bankroll plus-sized underperformers, like “The Insider,” “Miami Vice” and “Public Enemies.” “Blackhat,” his first film in almost six years, cost $80 million. Let’s hope even more time doesn’t elapse before he’s seen again.
Top 5 earners:
1 ‘American Sniper’ $105.3 million
2 ‘The Wedding Ringer’ $21 million
3 ‘Paddington’ $19.2 million
4 ‘Taken 3’ $14 million
5 ‘Selma’ $8.3 million