Thanks to a marketing campaign that played up military heroism while avoiding the moral ambiguities associated with U.S. foreign policy, Afghanistan war drama Lone Survivor scored one of the biggest opening weekends ever in January. Meanwhile, The Legend of Hercules bombed and Her and Inside Llewyn Davis underperformed in their nationwide expansions.
Lone Survivor opened to $37.8 million this weekend, which ranks second all-time in January behind 2008's Cloverfield ($40.1 million). It also demolished a handful of comparable January releases like Zero Dark Thirty ($24.4 million), Contraband ($24.3 million) and Black Hawk Down ($28.6 million). Ironically, it also opened much higher than director Peter Berg's 2012 movie Battleship ($25.5 million), despite costing only a fraction as much to produce.
As evidenced by the performance of movies like Green Zone ($35.1 million), The Hurt Locker ($17 million), Lions for Lambs ($15 million) and Rendition ($9.7 million), conflict in the Middle East hasn't exactly been a recipe for box office success. To avoid falling in to that trap, Universal positioned Lone Survivor as an inspiration movie about courage and brotherhood while downplaying the catastrophic results of the Operation Red Wings mission. This helped ensure that the movie reached as broad an audience as possible: while many remain skeptical of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, it's much harder to find people who take issue with the bravery of the men and women in combat. Lone Survivor's audience was 57 percent male and 57 percent were 30 years of age or older. It was marketed as the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan, and audiences seem to agree with that sentiment: according to Universal, it received a rare "A+" CinemaScore across all quadrants. With strong word-of-mouth, look for Lone Survivor to hold well in the coming weeks on its way to a total of at least $110 million.
In second place, Disney Animation's Frozen eased 25 percent to $14.7 million. Among seventh weekends, that ranks fourth all-time behind Avatar, Titanic and The Passion of the Christ. So far, Frozen has earned an astounding $317.3 million. The Legend of Hercules took third place with a weak $8.9 million. That's below similar movies Season of the Witch ($10.6 million) and Conan the Barbarian ($10 million), and is about on par with The Eagle ($8.7 million).
Lionsgate/Summit acquired U.S. distribution rights to The Legend of Hercules from Millennium Films in November, and gave it a modest marketing push and light release (only 2,104 theaters). There were no real stars to speak of (a few lines in Twilight doesn't make you bankable), and it wound up looking derivative of bigger, better past movies like 300, Gladiator and Immortals. The movie's failure this weekend shouldn't be viewed as a referendum on the popularity of the Hercules story, so Paramount's upcoming Hercules movie (starring The Rock) is still in fine shape.
The audience for The Legend of Hercules was 57 percent male and 55 percent over the age of 25. It received a weak "B-" CinemaScore, and will likely close below $20 million. 3D shows accounted for 49 percent of the movie's ticket sales.
In its third weekend in theaters, The Wolf of Wall Street dipped 33 percent to $8.8 million. While word-of-mouth has been somewhat mixed, Wolf has benefited from a "controversy" conversation that's made it a must-see among a certain subset of moviegoers. To date, Wolf has earned $78.6 million, and should have no problem closing above $100 million.
American Hustle added $8.3 million, which allowed it to pass $100 million on Sunday. The David O. Russell ensemble flick continues to hold well, and with a bunch of Oscar nominations on the way there's a good chance it ultimately closes above Silver Linings Playbook ($132.1 million). American Hustle is the 33rd movie from 2013 to pass $100 million at the domestic box office, which beats 2009's record of 32. There are also two more on the way (The Wolf of Wall Street and Lone Survivor).
After two weeks in New York and Los Angeles, August: Osage County expanded to 905 theaters this weekend and scored a solid $7.16 million. The Weinstein Company played up the Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts conflict, and also highlighted laughs over some of the movie's darker subject matter. If August secures a few key Oscar nominations on Thursday, it should wind up a decent success. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones added $6.3 million, which was off 66 percent from opening weekend (a standard drop for the franchise). To date, The Marked Ones has earned $28.5 million, and it is now guaranteed to be the lowest-grossing Paranormal movie by a large margin.
Expanding to 1,729 locations, Spike Jonze's Her earned an underwhelming $5.35 million this weekend. That's right around many of its comparable titles, including Midnight in Paris ($5.8 million), The Master ($4.4 million) and Lost in Translation ($4.2 million). Those titles were all playing in fewer than 1,000 theaters, though, which makes Her look much less impressive.
Despite earning universal praise from critics, audiences gave Her a poor "B-" CinemaScore. Her will likely get a handful of Oscar nominations on Thursday, which could buoy it a bitstill, it looks like this is going to be a modest performer. Her did at least perform better than Inside Llewyn Davis, which only mustered $1.88 million at 729 theaters. After averaging over $100,000 per theater in New York and Los Angeles, Inside Llewyn Davis has struggled to connect with mainstream audiences. It did at least pass 2009 Coen Bros. movie A Serious Man ($9.2 million), though that's not saying much. Even more so than Her, Llewyn is in need of some serious Oscar love. Around-the-World Roundup Frozen led the foreign box office for the first time this weekend. The Disney Animation blockbuster added $27.8 million from 50 markets for a new foreign total of $394.6 million. On Sunday, it passed Tangled's $391 million total. With South Korea and Turkey next weekend and China and Japan coming up, the movie still has a lot of overseas earnings on the way. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug took in $22.2 million for a new total of $566 million. It passed $800 million worldwide this weekend; it remains unclear if it can pass $1 billion when it expands in to China and Japan next month. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones had another strong weekend overseas. The supernatural spin-off took in $15.5 million for a new total of $34.6 million. Meanwhile, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty earned $14.4 million for a total of $93.3 million.
Six months after its domestic debut, Despicable Me 2 finally reached China this weekend. It opened to $13.8 million, which is the best animated opening since Ice Age: Continental Drift in 2012. On a worldwide basis, the animated sequel has now grossed $935.1 million.