'Lone Survivor' : Box Office Mission Accomplished With Stunning 38 Million


Gritty tale of Afghan war heroism mobilizes the mainstream to blast past projections. “August Osage County” bests “Her”

“Lone Survivor,” a gritty tale of courage and honor among America fighting men, broke out with a stunning $38.5 million triumph at the U.S. box office this weekend.

The Afghan war drama starring Mark Wahlberg and Emile Hirsch more than doubled distributor Universal Pictures’ pre-release projections. The studio and most analysts had expected the searing and violent tale of a Navy SEAL mission gone awry to land in the high-teen millions over the three days. Instead, it posted the best opening ever on this weekend, and the second-highest January debut ever, behind only the $40 million opening of 2008’s “Cloverfield.”

It was a hit with critics coming in, but the patriotic themes of “Lone Survivor” clearly struck an unexpectedly powerful chord with moviegoers, who turned out in large numbers and gave the film a rare “A+” CinemaScore.

“Lone Survivor” dominated the weekend. The reigning No. 1 movie, Disney’s animated family film “Frozen,” was a distant second with just over $15 million. The weekend’s only wide opener, the sword-and-sandals adventure “The Legend of Hercules,” was third and bunched with holdovers “Wolf of Wall Street,” “American Hustle” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” all between $8 million and $9 million.

The Meryl Streep-Julia Roberts dysfunctional family comedy “August: Osage County” out-performed another expanding Oscar hopeful, Spike Jonze’s computer love comedy “Her,” to finish seventh with $7 milliion.

“Lone Survivor” was adapted and directed by Peter Berg and is based on the book of the same name by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson. Taylor Kitsch, Eric Bana and Ben Foster co-star in the battle saga, which averaged an impressive $13,395 on its 2,875 theaters – more than three times better than any other movie.

In addition to the major markets, Universal’s marketing targeted the Heartland and military-friendly locales including San Diego, and it connected in a major way. With author Luttrell front and center, “Lone Survivor” and its theme of heroic service to the country also drew major attention on the news circuit in the run-up to its nationwide expansion, and that plainly helped.

“It played extremely well in Middle America,” Universal’s distribution chief Nikki Rocco told The Wrap. “It’s a sad and very tough story, but it also can make you very proud that we have these people representing our country, and I think the movie tapped into that. “

She the movie’s strength with women – who represented 43 percent of the audience and gave it an “A+” CinemaScore — was surprising.

“It’s a graphic, there’s no doubt about that,’ she said. “That it would score so well with them is amazing.”

“Lone Survivor,” which has been playing Oscar-qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles for the past two weekends, easily bested the mid-January expansions of two other war movies. Last year’s “Zero Dark Thirty” came in at $24.4 million and 2001’s “Black Hawk Down” opened wide with $28.6 million. And the big opening is a far cry from Berg and Kitsch’s last outing military-themed outing for Universal, 2012’s pricey domestic bomb “Battleship.”

“Lone Survivor” was financed by to the tune of $40 million by Emmett Furla, which produced the film along with Berg, Wahlberg and Sarah Aubrey.

“August: Osage County” took in $7.3 million to finish seventh, after the Weinstein Company aggressively expanded it from five to 905 theaters. That’s an impressive $8,083 per-screen average for Tracy Letts’ adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

“Her,” which features Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls for his operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, expanded from 47 theaters to 1.729 and brought in $5.4 million. That’s a so-so $3,129 per-screen average for the Warner Bros. comedy.