Weekend Report: 'Sniper' Sets January Record with Stunning $89 Million Debut
Exceeding all reasonable expectations for an R-rated war drama, Clint Eastwood's American Sniper dominated the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend box office with an estimated $89.5 million.

That's over twice as high as the previous January opening weekend record held by Ride Along ($41.5 million), and ranks second all-time for a rated R movie behind 2003's The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8 million).

The Wedding Ringer and Paddington also had solid openings, while Michael Mann's Blackhat was a disaster.

The Top 12 earned an estimated $184.6 million this weekend, which is up 20 percent from the same frame last year.

American Sniper's $89.5 million opening ranks 41st all-time, which puts it in the same ballpark as last year's crop of superhero movies (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy). Considering Sniper didn't have the advantage of 3D pricing, it's likely that it actually sold more tickets than any of those movies.

On Saturday, American Sniper passed The Grand Budapest Hotel to become the highest-grossing movie nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture this year. It's currently earned more than Birdman, The Theory of Everything, Boyhood and Whiplash combined.

Over the four-day weekend, American Sniper earned an estimated $105.3 million. That's over twice as big as the previous MLK weekend record, which was set by Ride Along last year.

Heading in to the weekend, the best comparable title for American Sniper seemed to be Lone Survivor. Both movies were true stories set during our recent conflicts in the Middle East, and both featured an A-list star (Mark Wahlberg, Bradley Cooper) playing a Navy SEAL. Each movie also arrived in theaters after the conflicts had drawn to an end, and each movie focused on the brave soldiers involved instead of the contentious politics behind them.

What, then, explains the $50 million difference between American Sniper's $89.5 million and Lone Survivor's $37.8 million? American Sniper probably got a bit of a boost from stronger reviews, a slew of Oscar nominations (six, including Best Picture), and director Clint Eastwood's brand. Also, it's possible that in the year since Lone Survivor opened, audiences have become even more comfortable with the notion of watching a movie set in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The key difference could be that Lone Survivor was set entirely in Afghanistan, whereas American Sniper had one foot in Iraq and one foot at home. Marketing mixed imagery of the title character entrenched in a war zone with shots of him stateside with his family, and many previews culminated with an emotional phone call from battle in which he declares "I'm ready to come home." This humanized the character, and made him extremely relatable to current and former troops and their family members.

American Sniper's audience was 57 percent male and 63 percent over the age of 25. The movie earned an estimated $11.5 million in IMAX, which is a record for an R-rated movie. It received a rare "A+" CinemaScore, which suggests that word-of-mouth will be through the roof. Look for American Sniper to wrap up with at least $250 million, maybe quite a bit more.

Continued with a look at 'The Wedding Ringer,' 'Paddington,' 'Blackhat' and more >>

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'Sniper' Sets Sights on January Record

Last Weekend

'Taken 3' Scores Third-Highest January Opening Ever

This Timeframe in Past Years:

• 2014 - 'Ride Along' Cruises to January Record

• 2013 - 'Mama' Haunts First Place Over MLK Weekend

• 2012 - 'Contraband' Hijacks MLK Weekend

• 2011 - 'Green Hornet Kicks Into Top Gear Over MLK Weekend

• 2010 - 'Avatar' Reigns with Record MLK Gross

• 2009 - 'Paul Blart' Does Part in Record MLK Weekend

• 2008 - 'Cloverfield' Clobbers MLK Record

• 2007 - 'Stomp' Steps Up

• 2006 - 'Glory Road' Glides Past 'Hoodwinked' in MLK Photo Finish

• 2005 - 'Coach Carter' Delivers $29M Win

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