With a huge $14.4 million Friday debut for their "Lone Survivor" (Universal), director Peter Berg and actor/producer Mark Wahlberg get the last laugh after their qualifying runs failed to impress critics or receive any awards attention for the film about a lone soldier's fight to escape after a devastating attack on his Navy SEAL team in Afghanistan. The gross is more than 50% better than the first day of "Zero Dark Thirty" last year (same weekend). That film opened much bigger in its limited runs and benefited from critical acclaim and significant wins and nominations on its way to an eventual $96 million take.
No popular genre seems as underserved as war/military-themed movies, and historically a broad base of male middle American audiences will turn out for them even if they might be message-oriented -- like "ZD30" or the earlier "The Deer Hunter," "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon" but not the case for "Lone Survivor." Like "ZD30" and "Black Hawk Down," "Survivor" is opening right after Christmas when many other films aim at a more upscale, older, female audience. But those other military films had awards traction -- this is flying solo, and soaring even higher so far.
"Survivor" is one of two brand-new films this week (last year saw three, with " A Haunted House" and "Gangster Squad" both opening at a bit over $6.5 million for the day). This year, only "The Legend of Hercules" (Lionsgate) opened, with a #3 showing for now (likely to drop) at only $3,080,000.
The rest of the top 10 (and just beyond) is a combination of holiday holdovers and two expansions of earlier, more limited films, with the total result $3 million behind last year's gross. "August: Osage County" (The Weinstein Company) fared the best, coming in at #6 with $2.2 million in 905 theaters. This is a decent initial take for its more limited run, although it is playing at the bulk of theaters where the film would have appeal. The rest of the weekend -- and more importantly next weekend -- will indicate whether this has legs to turn into a modestly successful film. Spike Jonze's "Her" (Warner Bros.) fared much less well despite being in nearly twice as many theaters (1,729), taking in only $1.8 million and placing at only #11 for the day. This has been one of the best reviewed films of the season, but despite some initial, strong response from audiences it has failed to duplicate that so far in a wider run.
The rest of the top 10 consists of holdovers, many having steep drops from a semi-holiday Friday last week. #2 is "Frozen" (Buena Vista) at $3.1 million. With weekend matinees it should hold that position, now in its eighth week. "The Wolf of Wall Street" (Paramount) and "American Hustle" (Sony) fell only around one-third, grossing around $2.7 and $2.6 million respectively for #4 and #5. Last weekend's #2 film, "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" (Paramount), fell to #7, down more than 75% at $2.1 million. In the remainder of the top 10, in order, all grossing roughly between $1.9-$2.1 million, are "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" (Warner Bros.), "Saving Mr. Banks" (Buena Vista) and "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues"(Paramount). "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (20th Century-Fox), "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (Lionsgate) and "Grudge Match" (Warner Bros.) fell out of the Top 10. More limited expansions of "Inside Llewyn Davis" (CBS Films) and "Nebraska" (Paramount) came in lower still, with full results for those to be reported tomorrow.