Universal bounced back from its second big-budget dud of 2013, “47 Ronin,” with two lower-budget 2014 releases that should pass the $100 million domestic mark. “Ride Along” and holdover “Lone Survivor” grabbed the top two weekend spots, stealing the thunder from the spate of year-end Oscar contenders hoping to sustain their runs. Of that bunch only “American Hustle” (Sony) got a big boost, and along with Christmas opener “The Wolf of Wall Street,” seems likely to sustain substantially longer runs.
Weinstein’s “August: Osage County,” which more than doubled its theater count this week to yield a gross only slightly better than last weekend, is the only other awards entry with much potential at this point among the live-action nominees. “Her” held well but still hasn’t cracked the Top 10.
The three-day weekend total–the Monday holiday will boost grosses–is significantly up from last year, when only “Mama” opened big. More impressively, the Top 10 total is up a whopping $40 million from the last Martin Luther King holiday weekend, as 2014 continues to show signs of surpassing 2013’s weak start, when grosses were down by 12% by the end of April.
A wide array of Oscar nominees either held onto screens or attempted relaunches to piggy-back off the new attention from Oscar nominations, with “Gravity” (Warner Bros.) on the most screens (944) faring the best at #16 but still grossing under $2 million. The others, including “12 Years a Slave,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena” and “Dallas Buyers Club” will be discussed in more detail in Arthouse Audit.
1. Ride Along (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 41
$41,200,000 in 2,663 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $15,485; Cumulative: $41,237,000
This modestly-budgeted comedy ($25 million) boasts the biggest (inflation unadjusted) January three-day weekend gross on record (besting 2008’s “Cloverfield” by a close margin, if not in actual tickets sold). While largely off the media radar, the targeted marketing clearly hit the intended core African-American audience and beyond (audience surveys show 50% non-black, with a large Latino appeal). Let’s call it: Kevin Hart is a star. His recent concert film success arrived after years of supporting work in films like the “Scary Movie” series, “Little Fockers,” “40 Year Old Virgin” and the recent “Grudge Match.” And co-star and co-producer Ice Cube stages a lead-role comeback amid a long-term career that goes back to the early 1990s.
Director Tim Story has a track record going back to Ice Cube-starrer “Barbershop” followed by two “Fantastic Four” films and the recent $91 million “Think Like a Man.” The “Ride Along” plot–about a security guard pursuing a rogue cop’s sister — shares elements of another January sleeper, Kevin James’ “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” “Ride Along” reminds that an appealing comedy with popular names can over-perform and surprise the industry. And on an award season weekend this comedy has outgrossed in three days what “12 Years a Slave” has taken in over three months.
What comes next: Kevin Hart is now a top star in a film that could spawn a franchise. And Universal has a second early-year wide release likely to hit $100 million.
2. Lone Survivor (Universal) Week 4; Last weekend #1
$23,200,000 (-39%) in 2,989 theaters (+114); PSA: $7,775; Cumulative: $78,400,000
Falling in its second wide weekend more than last year’s “Zero Dark Thirty” (which started from a lower level and had a boost from Oscar nominations), this is still a strong performance for Peter Berg’s Afghanistan-set true life drama with Mark Wahlberg. With a gross already nearly double its production cost, this is approaching major hit level and looks to be the first wide release of 2014 to hit $100 million by next weekend.
What comes next: Watch for this to have only modest drops in weeks ahead — there was a lot of new competition this weekend, but this has a real shot at stabilizing and maintaining a top five position for some time ahead.
3. The Nut Job (Open Road) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 36
$20,550,000 in 3,427 theaters; PSA: $5,996; Cumulative: $20,550,000
Looking like the biggest hit yet for exhibitor-owned (Regal and AMC) Open Road. timed perfectly for the holiday weekend with a dearth of family films since the still strong “Frozen,” this 3-D animated comedy shows once again that this genre is a goldmine. This one is more impressive with its lack of brand pedigree (it is a Canadian/South Korean co-production, with co-directors who initially started at lower-level Disney jobs). Even more impressive (though helped by their “in” at the two biggest circuits) is how many theaters Open Road managed to book in one of the most intense weeks of the year (four new films plus Oscar holdovers). This looks like a success for all involved (the estimated budget with national tax-credits deducted was around $30 million). With the school holiday tomorrow, this has a shot at ending up #2 for the four-day weekend.
What comes next: Open Road’s previous biggest hit was “The Grey,” which got to almost $52 million, which this should easily reach.
4. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 58
$17,200,000 in 3,337 theaters; PSA: $5,078; Cumulative: $17,200,000
Somewhere the late Tom Clancy is laughing — Kenneth Branagh, the director best known for his Shakespeare films, took over the Jack Ryan franchise (actually not that much of a surprise since his “Thor” for Marvel/Paramount grossed worldwide more than his previous nine films combined). With the studio’s go-to star Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) taking over a well-known character, this was supposed to reboot the franchise that goes back to “The Hunt for Red October” and starred Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. This result is not at the same level, and Paramount’s late-inning willingness to push this out of Christmas for “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests some anxiety about its competitiveness during that period. With a thrifty $60 million budget and lower marketing costs outside the intense holiday period, this will need a better than expected hold (this gross suggests around a $50 million domestic take) and stronger international appeal to have a chance of making this a franchise restart.
Along with Branagh and Pine, this had a high creative pedigree — cowriter David Koepp’s credits include “Jurassic Park,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Spider-Man,” its producers have among their recent films entries in the “Harry Potter,” “G.I. Joe” and “Red” series, and co-stars Keira Knightley and Kevin Costner add appeal to sophisticated audiences. So far though the response has fallen short.
What comes next: Next week’s hold will be make or break for this. It needs to be strong to make it more than a short playoff run.
5. Frozen (Buena Vista) Week 9; Last weekend #2
$11,971,000 (-19%) in 2,979 theaters (-260); PSA; $4,018; Cumulative: $332,602,000
Its Oscar nods don’t hurt, but this smash is just unstoppable — now in its third month, its third holiday boost, and no end in sight.
What comes next: This is still $36 million short of “Despicable Me 2″‘s domestic gross, which now looks vulnerable as this keeps playing steadily.
6. American Hustle (Sony) Week 6; Last weekend #5
$10,600,000 (+28%) in 2,204 theaters (-425); PSA: $4,809; Cumulative: $116,431,000
“American Hustle” had a great week with the Golden Globe wins, the co-lead in Oscar nominations and now its SAG ensemble award, but the biggest news of all comes at the box office, with a 28% jump in gross and clearly dominating public interest among the nominees. This now looks like it will stay on screen through most of the voting and then, after potential wins, still have new life. This could be headed to $200 million domestic, with its popularity its possible ace-in-the-hole with Academy voters. This jump came when the film actually lost a chunk of theaters (what were they thinking?) — don’t be surprised to see total stabilize or even increase.
What comes next: Watch Sony ride this wave as they hope to get the studio’s first Best Picture win since “The Last Emperor” 36 years ago.
7. Devil’s Due (20th Century-Fox) NEW – Cinemascore: D+; Metacritic: 35
$8,500,000 in 2,544 theaters; PSA: $3.341; Cumulative: $8,500,000
The second new horror release of the year is even more disappointing than the first (“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” which opened stronger (but way below earlier series entries). This stand-alone low-budget “Rosemary’s Baby”-inspired story came with a low cost — $7 million before marketing. It was co-directed by long time creative partners with roots in the Chad, Matt & Robb comedy group (prominent on-line and elsewhere) whose earlier short was part of the “V/H/S” package. But marketing costs will come in higher, and with the gross already falling its second day, the domestic box office total could fall short of what is needed to help make this break even.
What comes next: Expect this to be off nearly all screens after its second week.
8. August: Osage County (Weinstein) Week 4; Last weekend #7
$7,592,000 (+6%) in 2,051 theaters (+1,146); PSA: $3,702; Cumulative: $18,181,000
Post its two acting nominations, “August” went up 6%, but with the caveat that it more than doubled its theater count. Weinstein has successfully maintained awareness and interest in this film so far, but this gross is not as impressive as last weekend’s similar result in far fewer theaters. The 54% Saturday jump suggests this is skewing older, an audience that sometimes takes its time getting to a film, and which responds to word of mouth at a higher level.
What comes next: Next weekend will be crucial in determining whether this can maintain a presence beyond the next two weeks. The release pattern for this tricky film so far has boosted it above what expectations were after its mixed initial response.
9. The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend #4
$7,500,000 (-15%) in 1,930 theaters (-591); PSA: $3,886; Cumulative: $91,677,000
Though this dropped from #4, this is a solid hold for Martin Scorsese’s adult-audience three-hour film, with its Best Picture/Director/acting nominations clearly giving this an extended life after its decent initial weeks. Whether this is a one-week help or can give this further life (its performance nationally has been uneven — it lost almost 600 lower-grossing theaters this week) will be something Paramount’s marketing people need to address, but look for them to continue to push this hard over the next weeks.
What comes next: Leonardo DiCaprio’s late-rising Oscar hopes would be greatly enhanced if this can stay prominent over the next month.
10. Saving Mr. Banks (Buena Vista) Week 6 – Last weekend #8
$4,147,000 (-37%) in 2,449 theaters (-222); PSA: $1,693; Cumulative: $75,391,000
Holding in the Top 10 despite its near-total (and surprising) Oscar snubs, this no longer looks certain to hit the $100 million total that seemed likely in its initial weeks, but still with its lower budget and most of the world still to open appears on its way to ultimate profit at least.
What comes next: Tough for it to sustain a run much longer, but the decent hold this weekend shows this still is finding an audience against big competion.
11. Her (Warner Bros) Week 5 – Last weekend #11
$4,065,000 (-24%) in 1,729 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,351; Cumulative: $15,026,000
The multiple nominations helped “Her” to a degree — it kept the drop to a modest 24%. That said, these are not grosses likely to keep this on screen in many of these locations much longer, even with the awards boost.
What comes next: This clearly has avid fans and enough interest to keep it on screen in more specialized locations, where it could sustain a modest run and come closer to realizing its deserved potential than it has so far.