UK Box Office

American Sniper

When American Sniper, Wild, Whiplash and Testament of Youth were all slated to open on 16 January, it was by no means obvious that the first of these titles would debut with a sum nearly five times the amount of any of the other three. DirectorClint Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper are strong marketable elements, but films about the Iraq war have tended to struggle with audiences, and the patriotically American flavour of the film might not have played so well in the UK. Any such scepticism has been banished by the result: £2.53m from 410 cinemas, yielding a site average of £6,172.

The obvious comparison for American Sniper is Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg; it, too, celebrates an American combatant, albeit in the Afghan war. Lone Survivor debuted a year ago with £752,000 from 392 cinemas – less than a third of the American Sniper number.

American Sniper is director Eastwood’s biggest debut by a significant margin. His previous best, Changeling, began with £1.23m in November 2008. Gran Torino is Eastwood’s highest-grossing film in the UK to date, with £8.33m. Best picture Oscar winner Million Dollar Baby got to £5.43m in 2005. Unforgiven did £5.77m. American Sniper looks likely to exceed all those titles. The film earned six Oscar nominations, including best picture, and buzz is now rising on Cooper (initially considered a rank outsider to favourites Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne) for best actor.

In the US, American Sniper debuted with a stunning $89.5m for the opening weekend (and $105.3m, including Martin Luther King holiday Monday, 19 January). By rule of thumb, an equivalent UK opening would be around £9m, but that was never on the cards. The film, about prolific Navy Seal sniper Chris Kyle, has much stronger appeal in the US than any foreign territory. Having said that, the film has already grossed a stunning $15m in Italy.

The awards movie pile-up

With seven Oscar-nominated films all playing on at least 200 screens, the battle for audiences has become intense. Cinema programmers already playing The Theory of Everything, Birdman, Into the Woods and Foxcatcher faced the challenge of accommodating American Sniper, Whiplash and Wild – plus an eighth title, Testament of Youth, which isn’t blessed with nominations but is competing for the same audience. Between them, these titles have earned 35 Oscar nominations.

Among newcomers, Whiplash debuted with a decent £574,000 from 249 cinemas, including previews of £38,000. In the US, distributor Sony Pictures Classics has presented the film as a more niche offering, grossing $6.7m after 15 weeks of play. In the UK, Sony has been more aggressive, playing the film in a broad mix of arthouse and multiplex sites. The film has performed best in London indie venues, with seven of the 10 best-performing sites being at Curzons, Everymans and Picturehouses in the capital.

Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, hasn’t been booked so aggressively by indie venues, but has still achieved full national coverage in 293 cinemas. Thanks to strong previews of £111,000, the film has landed a place in the top 10 chart, with a total so far of £525,000. Not counting the previews, the screen average is a soft £1,411. That compares with a weekend average of £1,819 for Birdman, £2,151 for Whiplash (excluding previews from the calculation) and £4,207 for The Theory of Everything.

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