‘American Sniper,’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Drive First Quarter Box Office Up 3%

Hits like “Cinderella” and “The Divergent Series: Insurgent” lifted the first quarter box office up 3% over the initial three months of 2014.

Domestic ticket sales for the period ending in March closed at $2.47 billion compared to $2.4 billion a year ago, according to BoxOffice.com and Rentrak. Going into the quarter, many analysts expected that the overall box office would be down because the winter of 2014 hosted such winners as “The Lego Movie” and “Ride Along.”

However, the quarter got a big assist from “American Sniper,” Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster war drama that premiered in a handful of theaters at the end of 2014 in order to qualify for Oscars. That picture has generated a massive $345.6 million Stateside, the biggest domestic haul for any film released in 2014.

Fifty Shades of Grey” is the highest-grossing domestic release of 2015, having made $165 million, though its dominance will be challenged when “Furious 7” debuts on Friday. The latest installment in the action series is expected to bow to a record $115 million over its first weekend in theaters.

Other hits released at the start of the year include the spy thriller “Kingsman: The Secret Service” ($119.9 million domestic); the animated “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” ($160.4 million domestic); and the family film “Paddington” ($74.7 million domestic).

The strong box office helped companies in the exhibition space. MovieTickets.com announced Wednesday that the number of tickets sold by the company in the first quarter of 2015 were up 29% over its 2014 results.

Yet a box office record remained elusive. Ticket sales could not match the $2.65 billion generated in the first quarter of 2010, a period that fielded hits such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” It also could not hit the $2.59 billion racked up in the first three months of 2012.

Heading into the middle of February the box office was outpacing 2014’s numbers by more than 10%, but a series of disappointments such as “Chappie” and “Run All Night” stopped the momentum before the quarter could end on a high note with the releases of “Cinderella” and “Home.”

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