'Lone Survivor'
'Lone Survivor'

Led by "Lone Survivor," which grossed double its expected amount and looks to be a powerhouse for weeks to come, this weekend continued the steady business of the last few weeks. The Top 10 grossed about $114 million, up a tick from last year, when three new wide releases grossed better than all but one of this year's two new ones. But despite the low take of flop "The Legend of Hercules," the top holdover films show strength above what is normally seen post-Christmas--before the upcoming boosts from awards and nominations.

Several more limited releases expanded this weekend to varying results. Weinstein's "August: Osage County" was the clear standout, with a high PSA after a strong Saturday jump landing it at #7 despite being on only 905 screens, way above pre-weekend expectations. The much more acclaimed "Her" didn't even make the top 10, with a weak showing across the board. "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "Nebraska," two other awards hopefuls, both expanded to higher theater counts and much smaller per screen averages, as "August" clearly took over as the leader among more limited releases.

Three other Christmas releases, all only in their third weeks, failed to make the top 10: "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," "The Grudge Match" and "47 Ronin" all dropped quickly after soft launches below expectations.

1. Lone Survivor (Universal/EOne in Canada) Week 3 - Last weekend: #38

$38,500,000 (+45,283%) in 2,875 theaters (+2,873); PSA (per screen average): $13,395; Cumulative: $38,900,000

The year is young, but 2014 already has its first surprise hit. Second only to "Cloverfield" in unadjusted January opening weekend totals, and likely hampered by a lack of seats and multiple screens, "Lone Survivor" once again proves that well-made upscale military films have a ready and eager audience across the country.

Universal initially thought this taut actioner might be strong enough to gain awards traction, premiering the film at the AFI Film Festival in November, with a two-theater New York/Los Angeles qualifying run on opening on Dec. 27. The results were solid, particularly with an appeal that was not necessarily big coast city, but nothing in the numbers suggested the movie would break this big. And the awards haul has been non-existent thus far, except for a surprise WGA nomination. Yet with most of the film community's eyes focused on the Golden Globes Sunday and Oscar nominations Thursday and multiple films scrabble for a limited audience, Berg and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg are enjoying much better results without having to worry about getting dressed up in formal wear.

The same weekend last year saw the expansion of "Zero Dark Thirty," which grossed $24 million at #1 and was considered an initial success (it went on to $95 million). But that film had much more hype plus considerable review and awards support ("Lone Survivor" received at best mixed/favorable notices and much less attention overall). But a wide cross-section of America clearly was attracted to this true story of one Navy Seal's daunting experience when he and his colleagues met with tragedy in Afghanistan. (Universal reports 43% female, unusually high for the genre, 57% over 30, 33% Latino).

This is a triumph for Berg, whose last film was big-budget flop "Battleship." It isn't his biggest opening ("Hancock" did $62 million its initial weekend), but this is more unexpected (his other films are "The Kingdom," "Friday Night Lights" and "Rundown.") For Wahlberg, this looks like his biggest success as a producer (past efforts include "Broken City," "Contraband" and "The Fighter," as well as HBO's "Entourage"). The $40-million production was cobbled together from eight different companies, suggesting that a lot of studios now regret passing after being offered the project.

What comes next: The A+ Cinemascore suggests that this could be in a for a long, healthy run that could push this way past $100 million and become the biggest January wide release of all time. It could stay at #1 for 2-3 weeks more.

2. Frozen (Buena Vista) Week 8 - Last weekend: #1

$15,070,000 (-23%) in 3,239 theaters (-79); PSA: $4,653; Cumulative: $317,661,000

"Frozen" just refuses to thaw. Now clearly past the holidays, this dropped less than a quarter to still rank #2 almost two months into its run. This film has totally owned the family market for weeks, and shows little sign of letting up.

What comes next: This could be around during most of the run up to the Oscars, where it is the clear favorite to win Best Animated Feature.

3. The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount) Week 3 - Last weekend: #4

$9,000,000 (-32%) in 2,521 theaters (-36); PSA: $3,570; Cumulative: $78,587,000

Surprisingly losing a tiny number of theaters in its third week (despite pockets of resistance to the film's tough aspects), the Martin Scorsese picture is on a roll. It dropped only around a third, and actually managed to rise to its best position yet (it started at #5, then #4 last weekend). Paramount's gamble to switch the release date late in the game to Christmas has clearly paid off in terms of gross, and now stands positioned if Oscar nominations come through as hoped to have momentum equal to any other contender going forward, with significant more business still possible.

What comes next: With likely lucrative foreign results still to come, this $100 million gamble seems like to pay off with strong dividends.