Led by Afghanistan war drama Lone Survivor, total domestic box office wound up at $894 million in January. That's a noticeable improvement over the past three years, but pales in comparison to 2010's record $1.06 billion.
After opening in New York and Los Angeles in late December, Lone Survivor expanded nationwide in early January. On opening weekend the movie grossed an outstanding $37.8 million, which at the time was the second-highest start ever in January. Thanks to strong word-of-mouth, Lone Survivor held well through the remainder of the month, and ended up passing $100 million total.
It's already earned more than Zero Dark Thirty ($95.7 million) and is on track to also top Black Hawk Down ($108.6 million) soon. This is a resounding success for Universal Pictures, who executed a marketing campaign that smartly played up the heroism of the soldiers while avoiding any of the moral ambiguity that often clouds modern war movies. Frozen continued to be the go-to choice for families through January. The Disney Animation musical, which opened over Thanksgiving weekend, added $89.9 million for a total of $352.9 million. It's now on its way to becoming the top 2013 animated movie ahead of Despicable Me 2 ($368.1 million). It also recently became the highest-grossing non-sequel animated movie ahead of the original runs of Finding Nemo ($339.7 million) and The Lion King ($312.9 million).
Kevin Hart/Ice Cube comedy Ride Along took third place with $84.7 million through its first 15 days. The movie set a new January opening weekend record with $41.5 million, and proceeded to hold first place for the following two weeks as well. By the first weekend in February, Ride Along will pass $100 million, which is a great result for a modestly-budgeted comedy.
With Lone Survivor and Ride Along, Universal Pictures had a very impressive month at the box office. The studio had the number one movie on each of the last four weekends of January, and by the end had already grossed nearly $200 million in 2014. They have another 15 releases this year, and only two of those are technically sequels (The Purge 2, Dumb and Dumber To). As studios move more toward big-budget, pre-branded properties, it will be interesting to see if a slate of modest, mostly-original movies can be a recipe for success.
December holdovers American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street continued to perform well in January. Buoyed by mid-month Oscar nominations, Hustle added $63.1 million, while Wolf grossed $60.2 million. To date, both movies have earned over $100 million (Hustle leads with over $130 million). The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug took sixth place with $51.8 million. In comparison, the first Hobbit movie grossed $65.7 million in January. Desolation of Smaug is now on pace to close with less than $260 million, which makes it the first of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth movies to fall short of $300 million.
Aside from Lone Survivor and Ride Along, the only other clearly successful January release was The Nut Job, which earned $44.4 million through its first 15 days. That's very solid for an inexpensive animated movie, and Open Road Films is already moving forward with a sequel (currently slated for January 2016).