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Box Office: ‘American Sniper’ Stuns With $105.3 Million MLK Weekend

American Sniper” took a match to all sorts of box office records on Monday, recording a massive $105.3 million wide-release opening over the four-day Martin Luther King weekend.

That detonated the prior holiday record holder, “Ride Along,” which kicked off with $48.6 million. The largest January box office weekend previously belonged to “Avatar” and its $68.5 million haul from 2010. Clint Eastwood’s biopic about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle doubled projections, which pegged a weekend in the $42 million to $50 million range.

Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow produced the Oscar-nominated drama for roughly $60 million. It premiered in a handful of theaters on Christmas and has slowly built up word of mouth in the ensuing weeks, before launching on 3,555 screens. It’s also inspired lively debate about its accuracy. Any controversy around the film isn’t hurting its commercial prospects. “American Sniper” now has the largest weekend for an R-rated drama, topping “The Passion of the Christ,” and the second largest weekend for an R-rated film behind “The Matrix Reloaded.” It shattered Eastwood’s previous high-water mark, the $29.5 million wide-release opening of “Gran Torino” in 2009.

“Paddington” was the third place finisher over the three-day weekend but will likely sneak ahead of “The Wedding Ringer” when Monday’s grosses are taken into account. The Weinstein Co. release opened to $25.2 million from 3,303 screens for the four-day period. The studio picked up U.S. distribution rights from Studiocanal, which financed the $55 million adaptation of Michael Bond’s beloved series about a talking bear.

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That left “The Wedding Ringer,” a Kevin Hart comedy about a mercenary best man, in third position, with $24.5 million from 3,003 locations. The Sony/Screen Gems production cost an economical $23 million to produce. It’s the company’s fourth collaboration with Hart to debut to more than $20 million, and it’s the largest January opening for an R-rated comedy in history. After hits such as “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man,” Hart may be the most consistent comic performer working today.

Pity poor Michael Mann. “The Insider” auteur’s latest, “Blackhat” — a look at cyber terrorism starring Chris Hemsworth — crashed and burned with $4.4 million from 2,567 North American theaters. Legendary backed the $70 million production, and Universal Pictures is distributing the film.

Last weekend’s champ, “Taken 3,” fell sharply in its sophomore round. The action sequel pulled in $17.4 million, bringing its total to $66.2 million.

“Selma,” Paramount’s Civil Rights Movement drama, used Oscar buzz and the national holiday to capture fifth place with $11.5 million. The story of the voting rights marches of 1965 has earned $29.2 million since debuting last month.

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