6TH UPDATE, TUESDAY, 3 PM: Rentrak Theatrical filed the weekend’s actuals with Warner Bros.’ American Sniper counting a four-week cume through yesterday of $110.4M. Talk about the spoils of war: American Sniper propelled the 2015 box office, in its first 19 days, 3.6% percent over the same frame last year with $667M. It stands to reason that this would be the highest-grossing four-day MLK weekend of all-time with $248.5M after American Sniper broke a slew of records, read Eastwood’s career-high bow, best three-day opening ever during January and February. Previous MLK record was 2009 with $231.5M when Sony comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop zoomed up a four-day bow of $39.2M. American Sniper had the biggest theater average of the four-day weekend with $30,100, followed by Sony Classic’s Still Alice, which chalked up $20,685 PTA or $248K in 12 venues.

The consensus is that American Sniper is going to hold for another two weekends. Wide releases coming up on Friday are Universal’s Jennifer Lopez $4M thriller The Boy Next Door in over 2,500; Odd Lot Entertainment’s Johnny Depp quirky comedy Mortdecai in an estimated 2,600; as well as Disney/Lucasfilm’s toon Strange Magic in 2,700. Sony Pictures Classics will also be taking best pic nominee Whiplash wide to about 1,000.

Other highlights this weekend:  Despite only getting three Oscar noms, its biggest being Meryl Streep for best supporting actress, Broadway fans continue to flock to Disney’s Into The Woods, in sixth place with $8.7M, a 29% dip, and a running cume of $116.5M. However, through four weeks, the film is running 11% behind 2012’s Les Miserables at the same point in time (there were points during the holiday season when the James Lapine-Stephen Sondheim musical was actually beating Les Mis). 

TWC’s The Imitation Game is the powerhouse best pic nominee that’s crossing over, staying alive in the top 10 with a 6% dip and a running cume of $51.6M.  The film is going uber-wide on Friday and $100M final is part of its end game. Other best pic noms: Paramount’s Selma only dipped 22% over its three-day with $8.78M and a cume to date of $31.5M.  Fox Searchlight’s Birdman saw a 162% surge in its 3-day with $1.54M and running cume of $28.6M.

Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 ($332.9M) will surpass Marvel/Disney’s The Guardians Of The Galaxy as the highest-grossing film of 2014 by Thursday, if not sooner. It only has $270K more to go. Lionsgate kept Katniss alive for fans in 2,500-3,100 theaters during the three-week holiday frame (Dec. 19-Jan. 4) where the film made 13% of it’s total or $42.3M (Catching Fire over the same frame made a tad more $44.2M).

The top 20 films per Rentrak Theatrical ranked by 4-day gross

  1. American Sniper, (WB) 4-day: $107M, 3-day: $89.26M (+15,304), 3,555 locations, $30,100 average, $110.4/wk 4
  2. Paddington (TWC/Dimension) 4-day: $25.49M, 3-day: $18.97M, 3,303 locations, $7,718 average, $25.49M/wk 1
  3. The Wedding Ringer (SNY-SGEMS), 4-day: $24M, 3-day: $20.6M, 3,003 locations, $8,006 average, $24M/wk 1
  4. Taken 3 (Fox), 4-day: $17.05M, 3-day: $14.7M (-62%), 3,594 locations, $4,745 average, $65.8M/wk 2
  5. Selma (Par), 4-day: $13.85M, 3-day: $8.78M (-22%), 2,235 locations, $6,197 average, $31.5M/wk 4
  6. Into The Woods (Dis) 4-day: $8.7M, 3-day: $6.77M (-29%), 2,758 locations, $3,156 average, $116.5M/wk 4.
  7. The Imitation Game (TWC), 4-day: $8M, 3-day: $6.8M (-6%), 1,611 locations, $4,976 average, $51.6M, 8 weeks.
  8. Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, (WB), 4-day: $5.97M, 3-day: $4.9M (-48%), 2,220 locations, $2,693 average, $245.7M/Wk 5.
  9. Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb (Fox), 4-day: $5.29M, 3-day: $3.8M (-43%), 2,437 locations, $2,169 average, $106.2M/Wk 5
  10. Unbroken (Uni), 4-day: $5M, 3-day: $4.2M (-49%), 2,602 locations, $1,930 average, $109.4M, Wk 4
  11. Blackhat (Uni), 4-day: $4.49M, 3-day: $3.9M , 2,567 locations, $1,750 average, $4.49M, Wk 1
  12. Annie (Sony), 4-day: $2.99M, 3-day: $1.99M (-58%), 1,585 locations, $1,888 average, $83.17M, Wk 5
  13. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, (LG), 4-day: $2.29M, 3-day: $1.87M (-50%), 1,221 locations, $1,873 average, $332.9M/ Wk 9.
  14. The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (Rel), 4-day: $1.94M, 3-day: $1.68M (-64%) 1,392 locations, $1,397 average, $25.1M, Wk 3.
  15. Birdman (SEA), 4-day: $1.87M, 3-day: $1.54M (+162%), 471 locations, $3,971 average, $28.6M,Wk 14
  16. Wild, (SEA), 4-day: $1.73M, 3-day: $1.45M (-40%), 764 locations, $2,272 average, $33.3M, Wk 7
  17. Spare Parts, (LG), 4-day: $1.61M, 3-day:$1.34M, 440 locations, $3,661 average, $1.61M, Wk 1.
  18. Big Hero 6, (DIS), 4-day: $1.6M, 3-day: $1.07M (–53%), 739 locations, $2,161 average, $216.6M, Wk 11
  19. Inherent Vice (WB), 4-day: $1.36M, 3-day: $1.13M (–59%), 653 locations, $2,090 average, $6.68M, Wk 6
  20. Foxcatcher (SPC), 4-day: $1.19M, 3-day: $980K (+104%), 759 locations, $1,563 average, $10.1M, Wk 10


The Theory of Everything (FOC), 509 theaters/4-day cume: $1.18M/  3-day cume: $971K (+44%)/$2,316 screen average/Total cume: $27.5M / Wk 11

Whiplash (SPC) 189 theaters/4-day cume:$468K/ 3-day cume: $365K (+156%)/$2,476 screen average/Total cume: $6.7M/Wk 15

Still Alice (SPC) 12 theaters/4-day cume:$248K/ 3-day cume: $197K /$20,685 screen average/Total cume: $248K Wk 1

Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL), 38 theaters/4-day cume:$43K/ 3-day cume: $33K /$1,132 screen average / Total cume: $59.15M / Wk 46

5TH UPDATE, MONDAY, 8:05 AM: Rentrak is delayed due to the holiday, with final figures tomorrow, but in the meantime here is how Warner Bros’ juggernaut American Sniper is shaping up for the three-day and four-day weekend. The Clint Eastwood-directed war drama starring Bradley Cooper has grossed $89.505M for the Friday-Sunday period and a studio-estimated $105.305M for the four-day holiday period. The film is still setting mega-records including the largest January-February opening ever, the largest MLK four-day haul and an uber-career high for Eastwood.

The three- and four-day weekend numbers are down from the estimates provided yesterday, especially Sunday, which saw a 30% drop from Saturday. That’s still decent considering the competition: the NFL’s two championship games yesterday. (A film can drop as much as 70% on Super Bowl Sunday: for example, 2009’s Taken, another male-skewing film, dropped 68% the day of the big game). American Sniper‘s premium large-format, outside of IMAX, is looking to rack up $10.9M. Cinemark XD’s format repped 33% of that figure.

Over four-days, TWC/Dimension’s Paddington is looking to take second with  $25.2M, pushing Sony-Screen Gems The Wedding Ringer to the third which is set to make $24.5M.  Paddington came in third for the three-day with $18.97M. The Wedding Ringer still ranks as the No. 1 R-rated comedy bow in January with a revised FSS of $20.6M (pic by tomorrow is expected to outgross its budget of $23M in four days).

By tomorrow, Legendary’s Blackhat from Universal, the weekend’s fourth new wide release, will crash in 11th place with $4.415M over four days (FSS was $3.8M). The film looks to be beat by Universal’s own Unbroken which will post a four-day of $4.96 and a running cume of $109.3M.

Fox’s Taken 3 did a bit better than its three-day estimate y’day of $14M, with a revise of $14.6M today, down 63%. Four day is $17.4M with a cume of $66.2M.

In limited release, Lionsgate’s Spare Parts about four Hispanic students who start a cutting robotics club drew $1.345M at 440 locales; it looks to hit $1.65M by tomorrow.

Out of all the indie releases that were nominated for Oscars, TWC’s The Imitation Game, remains in the top 10, down 6% from last weekend with $6.79M. Four day is looking at $8.06M with a cume in its eighth frame of $51.7M. Many insiders assert that by Oscar night,  the film should hit $100M.

4TH UPDATE, SUNDAY, 8:12 AM (final update, 9:40 AM): Warner Bros. is reporting that American Sniper is set to post a Friday-through-Sunday of $90.2M with a cume to date of $93.6M.  By tomorrow, with the MLK holiday, the Village Roadshow co-prod cume is looking to post a four-day of $105.2M and an overall cume of $108.6M. Unheard of for any wide release at this time of year. What record did the movie American Sniper NOT break?

american-sniperAmong three-day bows, it’s the best posted by a January or February release, beating Passion of the Christ‘s (which opened on a Wednesday) FSS of $83.8M.  It’s the largest January weekend ever, beating Avatar‘s $68.5M during its third session (Jan. 1-3, 2010) and it’s looking to be the largest R-rated four-day ever, beating 2011’s The Hangover 2, which made $103.4M.

A+ CinemaScore across the board among males, females and over/under 25.  Everyone always knew the film was going to be the highest opening for an MLK release, beating last year’s opening record set by Kevin Hart‘s Ride Along ($41.5M 3-day, $48.6M 4-day). Audience make-up was 57% guys/43% women with 63% over 25. American Sniper also earned the best take for an R-rated IMAX film with an estimated $11.5M over the four-day, beating Fox’s Prometheus, which made $9M. American Sniper’s per theater: an amazing $25,374 over three days and $29,592 over four-days.

While the competition did well this weekend against the titan American Sniper, some executives griped that the Eastwood film shaved off dollars off their initial projections.

“It felt like we opened against a Marvel movie,” said one studio executive about Sniper‘s presence. “The people portrayed in American Sniper – these are real-life heroes to people in the same way that Marvel characters are heroes to fanboys. But it’s the Marvel concept for adults.”

Selma MLK Jr Oscar snubGiven its prime spot on MLK weekend, Paramount’s Selma held very well, bolstered by a best picture Oscar nomination (it also received one for best song) with the studio reporting a 26% dip, to an $8.3M three-day and a $10.3M four-day. The movie’s domestic cume by tomorrow will stand at $27.96M.

While this would have seemed the prime weekend to go wide, Paramount smartly did so a week earlier, counter-programming Taken 3and dodging the market power of The Wedding Ringeranother African-American-oriented movie that, like Selma, drew mostly females.

Said Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman on Sniper’s success: “The film played from small towns to big cities, red to blue states. The story touched on so many things dear to the American public – patriotism, service to your country. It hit that core.”

Warner Bros. saw an early cut of the film last year. VFX weren’t even ready, but execs were blown away. Commenting on why the studio chose to go wide in January versus December, Fellman said, “It gave us an opportunity to let the movie breathe.”

Warner Bros. implemented a very textured and layered marketing campaign for Sniper. In a time when an even a low-budget political comedy can create an international furor, Warner Bros. always felt they had a film that cut through the politics of war.

“It can be a very compelling, often sad or cathartic experience for people” said Sue Kroll, Warner’s president of worldwide marketing and international distribution.  “The film completely connects with people at this point in time in our culture. With the horrors of war every day in the news, this film hits closer to home.”

taya kyleThe trailers and TV spots were specifically made to emphasize the emotional tones of Chris Kyle’s story. While some focused on the intense scene featuring Kyle taking a slow aim at an Iraqi woman and child, 60-second TV spots featured soundbites from Chris Kyle’s widow Taya Kyle, actress Sienna Miller and screenwriter/executive producer Jason Hall talking about NAVY seal hero Chris Kyle. There were longer featurettes on line as well.

“With everything that was going on, they made people stop and take notice,” said Kroll.

Further making American Sniper compelling and more real were Taya Kyle’s eloquent interviews with such outlets as Fox News and TODAY. Screenwriter Hall’s experiences resonated with trade publications during awards season regarding the film’s path to the screen; how he was working on the script prior to Kyle’s murder – and how Chris Kyle’s murder on a Texas gun range impacted the story.

The studio tapped Glover Park Group, a leading DC-based marketing and PR group with deep experience in government affairs work. They created the military press program and screenings.

“It’s always tricky when you have a movie that’s about war, but after the first screening, we were all moved at the studio and quickly rolled it out on a limited basis before the end of the year,” Kroll said. “The movie is a soldier’s story and the universality of the toll that war takes on the soldier and those he left behind. That perspective in American Sniper differentiates it from other war films. It has made it more mainstream and relatable. And more emotional.”

In second place, Sony’s Screen Gems launched their fourth straight hit with more than $20M in The Wedding Ringer, starring Kevin Hart. The studio is reporting the film at $21M in 3,003 hubs with per theater of $6,993 and a four-day take of $25M. The crowd was 58% female, and mostly young, with 49% under 30. Among R-rated January comedy openings, The Wedding Ringer is the best, beating Paramount’s 2011 kinky romantic comedy No Strings Attached with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. That film posted a $19.65M weekend.

Paddington in third is the first title to go out through the TWC/Dimension label, a combined brand intended for higher-end commercial fare. The $55M budgeted Canal Plus production, which TWC/Dimension acquired domestic on, played very strong in Middle America and suburbia, grossing a studio-reported $19.287M for the FSS and a $25.6M for the four-day, drawing 60% women, and  42% of the crowd parents with kids.

Legendary’s Blackhat distributed by Universal, the frame’s fourth wide bow, grossed $4M per the studio in 2,567 locales. Industry estimates below see the film slotting 11th for FSS. The crowd for the Michael Mann cyber-thriller was 59% male and 18% under age 25. The studio wasn’t on the hook for P&A, and the film was around before Universal’s deal with Legendary went into place.  It’s an R-rated adult-male drama, and when it was placed on the schedule, no one, including Universal, saw American Sniper coming around the corner.

20th Century Fox’s Taken 3 held the best it could against American Sniper with a studio reported $14M three-day at 3,594 and a cume of $62.8M. While that’s a 64% drop from its opening, again peg it to American Sniper picking off male moviegoers in particular.

Deadline’s top 10 films per industry estimates show the three-day and four-day weekend as follows:
1). American Sniper (WB), 3,555 theaters (+3,551)/ $30.4M Fri./ $34.7M Sat. (+14%)/ $22.9M Sun. (-34%)/ 3-Day cume: $88M (+15,085%)/4-Day cume:$99.1M /Total cume: $102.5M/ Wk 4

2). The Wedding Ringer (Sony), 3,003 theaters/ $6.99M Fri./ $8.4M Sat. (+20%)/ $5.2M Sun. (-37%)/ 3-Day cume: $20.7M/ 4-Day cume: $24.6M /Wk 1

3). Paddington (TWC), 3,303 theaters / $4.6M Fri./ $8.3M Sat. (+80%)/ $M Sun. (-%)/ 3-Day cume: $19.3M / 4-Day cume: $24.1M /Wk 1

4). Taken 3 (Fox), 3,594 theaters (0)/$4.2M Fri/ $6.6M Sat. (+55%)/ $3.2M Sun. (-51%)/ 3-Day cume: $14M (-62%)/4-Day cume: $16.9M /Total cume: $65.6M/ Wk 2

5). Selma (Par), 2,235 theaters (+56) /$2.3M Fri./ $3.7M Sat. (+56%)/ $2.2M Sun. (-41%)/ 3-Day cume: $8.4M (-26%)/4-Day cume: $10.3M /Total cume: $27.9M / Wk 4

6). The Imitation Game (TWC), 1,611 theaters (+45) / $1.8M Fri. / $3.2M Sat. (+71%)/ $2M Sun. (-38%)/ 3-Day cume: $7.3M (-2%)/4-Day cume: $8.9M /Total cume: $51.6M / Wk 8

7). Into The Woods (DIS), 2,758 theaters (-75) /$1.6M Fri./ $3M Sat. (+80%)/ $2.1M Sun. (-30%)/ 3-Day cume: $6.8M (-29%)/4-Day cume: $8.9M /Total cume: $116.7M / Wk 4

8). The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (WB), 2,220 theaters (-1182)/$1.1M Fri./ $2.2M Sat. (+89%)/ $1.4M Sun. (-35%)/ 3-Day cume: $4.8M (-49%) /4-Day cume: $5.9M /Total cume: $245.6M/ Wk 5

9). Unbroken (UNI), 2,602 theaters (-699) / $1.2M Fri. (-51%)/ $1.9M Sat. (+56%)/ $1M Sun. (-47%)/ 3-Day cume: $4.2M (-49%)/4-Day cume: $5M/Total cume: $109.4M / Wk 4

10). Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb (FOX), 2,437 theaters (-934) / $859K Fri./ $1.7M Sat. (+105%)/ $1.3M Sun. (-25%)/ 3-Day cume: $3.9M(-41%)/4-Day cume: $5.2M /Total cume: $106.5M / Wk 5

11). Blackhat (UNI), 2,567 theaters / $1.3M Fri./ $1.5M Sat. (+15%)/ $983K Sun. (-37%)/ 3-Day cume: $3.7M/4-Day cume: $4.8M / Wk 1

Birdman (FSL) 471 theaters (+243)/$403K Fri./ $715K Sat. (+77%)/ $443K Sun. (-38%) / 3-day cume: $1.5M (+160%)/4-day cume: $1.8M/Total cume: $28.5M/Wk 14

Wild (FSL), 764 theaters (-522)/ $398K Fri./ $651K Sat. (+64%)/ $408K Sun. (-37%) / 3-day cume: $1.4M (-47%)/4-day cume: $1.7M/Total cume: $33.1M / Wk 7

Spare Parts (LGF) 440 theaters/$397K Fri. / $516K Sat. (+30%)/ $413K Sun. (-20%) /3-day cume: $1.37M/$4-day cume: $1.7M/ Wk 1 1

Foxcatcher (SPC), 759 theaters (+522)/ $274K Fri./$449K Sat. (+64%)/ $276K Sun. (-37%) / 3-day cume: $979K (+82%)/4-day cume: $1.1M/Total cume: $10M / Wk 10

The Theory of Everything (FOC), 509 theaters (+101)/ $247K Fri./ $434K Sat. (+75%)/ $282K Sun. (-35%) / 3-day cume: $950K (+41%)/4-day cume: $1.1M/Total cume: $27.5M / Wk 11

Whiplash (SPC) 189 theaters (+120)/$92K Fri. /$172K Sat. (+87%)/ $107K Sun. (-38%) /3-day cume: $362K (+154%)/4-day cume: 425K/Total cume: $6.6M/Wk 15

Boyhood (IFC), 136 theaters (+116) / $55K Fri. /$103K Sat. (+87%)/ $64K Sun. (-38%) / 3-day cume: $222K /4-day cume: $264K /Total cume: $24.6M/ Wk 28

Still Alice (SPC) 12 theaters/$52K Fri. / $89K Sat. (+71%)/ $65K Sun. (-28%) /3-day cume: $206K/$4-day cume: $249K/ Wk 1

Two Days, One Night (IFC) 15 theaters (+10) / $26K Fri. /$48K Sat. (+85%)/ $31K Sun. (-35%) /3-Day: $105K (+158%)/4-day cume: $129K/ Total cume: $300K / Wk 4

Grand Budapest Hotel (FSL), 46 theaters (+30) /$6K Fri. /$16K Sat. (+166%)/ $11K Sun. (-31%) / 3-day cume: $33K /4-day cume: $40K / Total cume: $59.3M / Wk 46

3RD UPDATE, SATURDAY, 8 AM: Warner Bros. is reporting Friday at $30.5M for American Sniper – not only a January opening day record, but more than any Clint Eastwood film has ever made in a weekend. With a new batch of projections released this AM, studio B.O. analysts are seeing Warner Bros.’ American Sniper clearing $80M by Monday. Warner Bros. preferred not to comment on the lofty figures, which makes sense because it’s better to get another day under your belt as the weekend progresses and projections become more exact. All over town, executives are gobsmacked by the opening traction for this movie, the highest ever in Eastwood’s career, easily beating the wide 2009 expansion of his fierce drama Gran Torino which posted a FSS of $29.5M and a final domestic B.O. of $148.1M. 

clint eastwoodA combination of standard factors can be attributed to American Sniper‘s success: its A+ Cinemascore, six Oscar noms (including best picture, actor for Bradley Cooper), Eastwood’s pedigree, Cooper’s star power and sublime performance, not to mention Warner Bros.’ generating advance word of mouth with military screenings and veteran outreach.  The studio took great care in crafting TV spots that were emotionally relate-able and could break through at this time of year when there’s an onslaught of critically acclaimed titles vying for attention. Above all, many feel that the key reason why American Sniper is clicking with crowds of all ages and pulling infrequent moviegoers out the house, is because the true story a family-man war veteran truly connects with our culture at this point in time; especially with the everyday global horrors of war so close to home. “It felt like we opened against a Marvel movie,” remarked one studio executive about American Sniper‘s presence in the market, “the people portrayed in American Sniper — these are real life heroes to people in the same way that Marvel characters are heroes to fanboys.  But it’s the Marvel concept for adults.”

the-wedding-ringerThose moviegoers looking for lighter fare on the marquee shelled out $7M yesterday per Sony to Screen Gem’s The Wedding Ringer.  That number puts the film in the neighborhood of a four-day of $23-$24M bow; enabling the film to outgross over the holiday frame.  “It will be in the market for weeks to come and it’s a real money maker for us,” beamed Sony domestic distribution head Rory Bruer today. Added The Wedding Ringer producer Adam Fields, who was at the Hollywood Grove last night for the 8PM and 9:45PM showings, “The theaters were full, the film played great , audiences seem to love it, it’s a marathon not a sprint.” Also propelling word of mouth for The Wedding Ringer is its 76M social media universe led by Kevin Hart’s 18M Facebook friends and 15M Twitter followers per RelishMix. Sony will release exit demos tomorrow, but the perception is that The Wedding Ringer is a crossover title between Caucasian and African American auds.

TWC is reporting Paddington at $4.657M in 3,303, with an eye on a three-day of $23.87M and a four-day of $23.9M. One thing is for certain, the playoffs won’t impact the kid pic.

Taken 3 from 20th Century Fox/EuropaCorp. earned an estimated $4.25M. Though that’s down 71% from a week ago, the film will continue to play solidly against American Sniper with an industry estimated $14.4M FSS and a $17.3M four-day.

Legendary’s Blackhat from Universal came in eighth on Friday with $1.36M, but will likely file in 10th or 11th for the three-day. With a budget of $70M, the film is bombing and will rank as director Michael Mann’s third lowest opener of his career, after 1999’s The Insider ($6.7M).

2ND UPDATE, SATURDAY, 2:04 AM: American Sniper is huge. So huge that the Clint Eastwood-directed film could, by sunrise, make more in one day than any one of his films ever made in a weekend.  Per late night industry estimates, the Warner Bros./Village Roadshow pic looks to gun down $29.1M in its first expanded Friday, within inches of blowing away Eastwood’s previous weekend high, 2009’s Gran Torino at $29.5M.  Hands down, American Sniper’s Friday booty ranks as the highest grossing day ever charted by a film in January – and that goes for an opening (previous record holder was 2008’s Cloverfield at $17.16M) and single day (prior was the $25.8M B.O. racked up by Avatar on Jan. 2, 2010).

american sniper 2Whenever weekend B.O. projections are made from Friday noon matinees, they tend to be significantly off come night time. But tonight, the industry continues to just project higher and higher weekend openings for American Sniper as east and west coast theaters close out their tills. Insiders see a tentpole trajectory for American Sniper throughout the weekend, with the bulk of the weekend’s B.O. being front-loaded tonight. Taking into consideration Sunday’s two NFL playoff games, which are apt to steal guys away, American Sniper could lower its guns by close to 30%-40% from its Saturday gross.  As of tonight, the outlook for the Eastwood film is $66.8M over three-days and $75.4M over four – easily surpassing the previous January and MLK weekend holiday record set by last year’s Ride Along which made $41.5M and $48.6M respectively over the three and four-days. In sum, American Sniper is an amazing feat for Warner Bros. On the surface, the film appeared risky with its anti-war message. In a grand gesture, Eastwood premiered the film at AFI on Veterans Day. Ask distribution folks why the film is an anomaly at the B.O., and they cite a perfect storm of reasons: Bradley Cooper’s star power, the NY Times bestseller status of Chris Kyle’s memoir, the film’s A+ Cinemascore as well as its awards season traction which counts six Oscar noms including best picture and best actor Cooper. While there’s definitely a groundswell of support from the military sector for American Sniper – the film screened extensively at military bases, some of which Cooper visited, not to mention the outreach to veteran groups — distrib insiders observe that American Sniper is playing strong everywhere; not just the red states. Warner Bros. led with an upscale campaign for the Eastwood film, opening it on Christmas day in four New York and LA theaters where it has hit a number of screen average highs.

Screenwriter Jason Hall met with former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle prior to the publication of his autobiography. Hall saw the project through several drafts, particularly in the wake of Kyle’s sudden murder. Originally Steven Spielberg was attached to direct with Cooper headlining, but the Lincoln director dropped out in August 2013. A few weeks later, Eastwood boarded the project.

wedding ringerAs for the rest of the chart, there’s a halo effect emanating from American Sniper. Sony-Screen Gems’ Kevin Hart-Josh Gad comedy The Wedding Ringer is looking at a $6.9M Friday and an industry estimated three-day of $20.5M and four day of $23.8M, which is in line with the $20M+  Hart’s openers like Think Like a Man Too and About Last Night. The Wedding Ringer hooked an A- Cinemascore on par with Ride Along’s A and Think Like a Man Too’s A-.

There’s a great backstory to how The Wedding Ringer made to the big screen. Screenwriters Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender originally sold the script in 2001 to Miramax when it was named The Golden Tux. Producer Adam Fields rescued the script from an archive of unproduced Miramax projects (the studio has its logo on the front of the film) and along with producer Will Packer, who has been behind a slew of Hart hits (including Ride Along, Think Like a Man and About Last Night), set the project up at Screen Gems. There’s been a huge word of mouth campaign for the film, with 300 screenings across the country, including colleges. Whenever his tour schedule permitted, Hart would drop by. Hart and Gad even crashed weddings around the country to spur WOM for the film, see the video below:

paddingtonWeinstein Co.’s family pic Paddington, which has accumulated both a 98% Rotten Tomatoes fresh score as well as an A Cinemascore, made an estimated $4.8M Friday with an eye on $19.3M for FSS and $24.1M over the four-day holiday.  Saturday biz looks to shoot up over 60% from Friday thanks to matinees. Per RelishMix, the kid pic has gained momentum from the film’s 24M YouTube viewers, 37M social media users as well as Nicole Kidman’s official Facebook page which has promo-ed the film to her 10M friends.

blackhat 2The one new release getting the short end of the stick on the charts is Legendary’s $70M Michael Mann title Blackhat from Universal which might post a FSS outside the top 10 with an industry estimate of $4M at 2,567 screens. On Friday, Blackhat made $1.4M. There’s no excuse that American Sniper is stealing away all the male biz from Blackhat, because guys are still shelling out for Taken 3 which made an estimated $4.3M Friday and is looking to raise its domestic cume to $66M by Monday.  The deck is stacked against Blackhat with a C- Cinemascore and an overall 33% Rotten Tomatometer score; despite the fact that the NY Times and LA Times both gave the Chris Hemsworth thriller a thumbs up. Earlier in his career, Mann would hit middleweight grosses for his noir crime fare such as 1995’s Heat ($67.4M domestic B.O.) and his 2001 biopic Ali ($58.2M). As of late, the director charted career highs with 2004’s Collateral ($101M) and 2009’s Public Enemies ($97.1M), however, Blackhat looks to bow as the third lowest bow of his career after 1999’s The Insider ($6.7M). Hope resides abroad. Outside of his stellar franchise titles like Thor and Snow White and the Huntsmen, Hemsworth’s previous adult-geared title Rush, made $63.3M abroad to its stateside $26.9M.

By Monday, Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 looks to have a cume of $332.8M; just $345K away from overtaking Disney/Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy as 2014’s highest grossing film.

More analysis to come in the AM.

The top 11 films based on industry estimates and ranked by three-day figures:

1). American Sniper (WB), 3,555 theaters (+3,551)/ $29.1M Fri. (+18,537%) /3-Day:$66.8M (+11,427%)/4-Day:$75.4M /Total cume: $78.8M/ Wk 3

2). The Wedding Ringer (Sony), 3,003 theaters/ $6.9M Fri./ 3-Day: $20.5M/ 4-Day: $23.8M /Wk 1

3). Paddington (TWC), 3,303 theaters / $4.8M Fri./ 3-Day: $19.3M / 4-Day: $24.1M /Wk 1

4). Taken 3 (Fox), 3,594 theaters (0)/$4.3M Fri(-71%). / 3-Day: $14.5M (-63%)/4-Day: $17.3M /Total cume: $66M/ Wk 2

5). Selma (Par), 2,235 theaters (+56) / $2.49M Fri. (-34%)/ 3-Day: $9.1M (-19%)/4-Day: $11.2M /Total cume: $28.8M / Wk 4

6). Into The Woods (DIS), 2,758 theaters (-75) / $1.7M Fri. (-31%)/ 3-Day: $6.8M (-29%)/4-Day: $8.9M /Total cume:$116.7M / Wk 4

7). The Imitation Game (TWC), 1,611 theaters (+45) / $1.8M Fri. (-14%) / 3-Day: $6.4M (-11%)/4-Day: $7.7M /Total cume: $51.3M / Wk 8

8). The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (WB), 2,220 theaters (-1182)/$1.3M (-47%)Fri./ 3-Day: $5.2M (-44%) /4-Day: $6.7M /Total cume: $245.9M/ Wk 5

9). Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb (FOX), 2,437 theaters (-934) / $975K Fri. (-40%) / 3-Day: $4.3M(-35%)/4-Day: $5.7M /Total cume: $106.7M / Wk 5

10). Unbroken (UNI), 2,602 theaters (-699) / $1.2M Fri. (-51%)/ 3-Day: $4.1M (-49%)/4-Day: $4.8M/Total cume: $109.1M / Wk 4

11). Blackhat (UNI), 2,567 theaters / $1.4M Fri./ 3-Day: $4M/4-Day: $4.8M / Wk 1

Birdman (FSL) 471 theaters (+243)/$383K Fri. (+139%)/3-day: $1.4M (+141%)/4-day: $1.7M/Total cume: $28.4M/Wk 14

Wild (FSL), 764 theaters (-522)/ $382K Fri. (-53%)/ 3-Day: $1.2M (-53%)/4-day: $1.5M/Total cume: $33.1M / Wk 7

The Theory of Everything (FOC), 509 theaters (+101)/ $255K Fri. (+40%)/ 3-Day: $949K (+41%)/4-day: $1.1M/Total cume: $27.5M / Wk 11

Foxcatcher (SPC), 759 theaters (+522)/ $249K Fri. /3-Day: $926K (+92%)/4-day: $1M/Total cume: $10M / Wk 10

Spare Parts (LGF) / 440 theaters/ $250K Fri ./ 3-day: $828K /4-day cume: $1.027M/Wk 1

Whiplash (SPC) 189 theaters (+120)/$94K Fri. /3-day cume: $351K (+145%)/4-day cume: 423K/Total cume:$6.7M/Wk 15

Two Days, One Night (IFC) 15 theaters (+10) / $14K Fri. / 3-Day: $52K (+27%)/4-day cume: $64K/ Total cume: $248K / Wk 4

2ND UPDATE, FRIDAY, 2:56 PM: Industry weekend projections are being floated around showing a $61M+ three-day for American Sniper and a four-day of $70.3M. At this point, those figures have to be taken with a grain of salt as they’re based on matinees. As we get closer to the evening, solid figures roll in as the East Coast theaters close out their cash drawers. A more sound estimate for American Sniper is $55M over three days. Why? Sunday is gonna be a hard day to estimate with two NFL conference championship games competing for male eyeballs (the AFC’s New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts and NFC’s Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers). Sony/Screen Gems’ The Wedding Ringer is still looking at the mid-$20Ms over four days, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. That film will do more business than the Weinstein Co.’s Paddington, which will rally back with weekend matinees. The kid pic should do low-$20Ms over four. Universal-Legendary’s Blackhat is looking to fall outside the top 5 this weekend with $5.8M over FSS and $6.6M over four.

UPDATE, FRIDAY, 7:44 AM: Warner Bros/Village Roadshow’s wide expansion of American Sniper is just getting warmed up, racking up $5.3M last night — amazing for a Clint Eastwood war drama. Sony’s The_Wedding_RingerThe Wedding Ringer rang up $800K in 2,354 locales, on track for a low- to mid-$20M three-day. Universal/Legendary’s Blackhat from director Michael Mann also held some sneaks and took in $179K at 1,755 engagements. American Sniper‘s preview ranks as the highest preview night ever for an R-rated drama, besting last year’s Lone Survivor, which made $1.9M. Sure, $5.3M isn’t Guardians Of The Galaxy preview cash ($11.2M), nor is it The Hunger Games: Mockingjay money ($17M preview), but those were big studio franchise titles. Last night’s results are great for American Sniper considering it’s a war drama. Distrib insiders are projecting that American Sniper actually could  make $50M+ over three days during the MLK Jr. holiday frame — which would be mind-blowing for an Eastwood film, making it a career opening high for the director and the month of January. Also working in favor for American Sniper‘s turnstiles are the six Oscar noms it locked and loaded yesterday including Best Picture and Best Actor for Bradley Cooper. Last night’s fantastic results are only an indication of what is yet to come…

Paddington Ben WhishawPREVIOUS, WEDNESDAY: After collecting $3.3M from four theaters with record screen averages since its Christmas bow, Clint Eastwood’s biopic American Sniper about Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is going wide this weekend at 3,555 theaters and expected to explode at the box office, delivering an all-time $50M+ opening for the Oscar-winning director. A number of factors are fueling what is anticipated to be a record FSS at the January box office for the Warner Bros./Village Roadshow title: Aside from being in the awards conversation,  American Sniper has resonated with Faith-based and military crowds. One studio executive this morning believed that red state moviegoers will be particularly attracted to American Sniper given how such Middle-Eastern war-time topics are in the headlines, read the ISIS threats, particularly in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Of course, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is expected to churn business.  The percent of Kids K-12 off are expected to spike from 8% on Friday to 95% on Monday, while those colleges off are expected to swell from 31% to 92% over the four-day frame per Rentrak Theatrical.

BlackhatFandango reports that more than 70% of their pre-sales show American Sniper on pace to be Eastwood’s best-selling weekend ever on the online ticket sales site.  Scoring a riveting 88 out of 100 points on Fandango’s Fanticipation movie buzz indicator, Sniper is outselling last year’s war drama Lone Survivor.  Eastwood’s previous largest 3-day was the wide expansion of 2009’s Gran Torino, which actually starred the multi-hyphenate. That film made $29.5M after four weeks of limited release before finaling at $148.09M. Gran Tornio is also the director-star’s highest grossing title stateside.

Eyeing second is Sony’s Kevin Hart-Josh Gad comedy The Wedding Ringer looking to make $20-$25M, a gross that’s in the neighborhood of Hart’s relationship comedy title About Last Night which bowed last February to $25.6M.  That film seems to be the prime comp for insiders versus Hart’s record-breaking MLK bow from last year, Ride Along which made $41.5M.

Dueling for third are 20th Century Fox’s Taken 3 and Weinstein Co.’s Paddington.  Taken 3 is looking to remain solid with about $17.6M, an estimated 55% decline in its second sesh on par with Taken 2. Through Tuesday, Taken 3 has made $44.9M.

It’s been four weeks since the last set of family pics bowed (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Annie), so Weinstein Co.’s Paddington, about the famed bear from Michael Bond’s books, looks to whet the appetites of boys and girls.  The film in 3,303 theaters looks to make $17.5M. Further moving the meter for Paddington, is the music video that Gwen Stefani and Pharrell teamed up for, “Shine”, which had collected 1.5M hits on the TWC YouTube channel.

Michael Mann’s Chris Hemsworth hacker action-thriller Blackhat from Universal is eyeing under $10M for the three-day in 2,566 venues– not a good start for the production which was fully financed by Legendary. Universal is only distributing.  Industry estimates peg pic’s budget at $70M. The film will get some extra dough from a handful of overseas markets where it’s going day and date.  It’s Mann’s first film in five years since 2009’s Public Enemies, which was an Independence Day 2009 counter-programmer with a $40.1M five-day opening and a $97.1M domestic cume.

Paramount’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic Selma, ever so prime the holiday weekend, should do between $7.5M-10M for the four day.

In over 400 hubs, Lionsgate is unspooling Spare Parts, a story about four Hispanic high school students who form a robotics club and ultimately rival the reigning MIT tech club in the field. Pic stars George Lopez and Jamie Lee Curtis and should do $2.5-$3M over four-days.

Brian Brooks will weigh in with the limited releases this weekend including Sony Classics’ Still Alice which recently won a Golden Globe drama trophy for best actress Julianne Moore.