January 26, 2015

American Sniper: Putting the Phenomenal Box Office in Perspective

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Written by: Mitch Metcalf
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One useful way to look at box office momentum is to compare the Opening (normally the first Friday-Sunday or in some cases the first wide-release weekend and all the additional days before that) to the Next 7 Days, the first full week in wide release (from the first Monday in wide release through the second Sunday in wide release).  The average film opens with $16 million through the first Sunday and then follows up with $13 million for the Next 7 Days, a drop of -19%.  A top 10% film opens with $53 million through the first weekend and then another $43 million for the Next 7 Days, an identical drop of -19%.  Anytime a film in the Next 7 Days comes close to matching the Opening (say a -5% drop or less), it is a noteworthy sign of great word of mouth, repeat business and a long run in the theaters.  However, truly extraordinary films build in the Next 7 Days over the Opening.

American Sniper is one of those outliers.  The film grossed $93 million through its Opening (including the platform release in NY and LA since Christmas), and then the Next 7 Days (through this past Sunday) jumped a big +15% to $107 million (a combination of a small -28% drop in the second weekend from the first but also because of extraordinary weekday business).  Not only is the +15% increase amazing, the fact that American Sniper topped $100 million in its first full week after opening puts it in rare company.  Since 2004, exactly 13 films have managed to gross $100 million during the Next 7 Day period (roughly one film a year).  Almost all (10 of 13) are sequels; the exceptions: The Dark KnightAvatar and now American Sniper.  And only three of these 13 films managed to increase from Opening to Next 7 Days: Avatar (+77%)Toy Story 3 (+6%) and now American Sniper (+15%).


($ millions, North American box office)

Title Wide Release Date Opening (thru 1st wide Sun) Next 7 Days (1st Mon-2nd Sun)  Next 7 Days vs Opening Total Domestic Total Overseas
American Sniper 1.16.2015 93 107 +15% TBD TBD
Hunger Games Mockingjay Pt 1 11.21.2014 122 104 -15% 334 379
Hunger Games Catching Fire 11.22.2013 158 138 -13% 425 440
Iron Man 3 5.3.2013 174 111 -36% 409 806
Dark Knight Rises 7.20.2012 161 126 -22% 448 633
Marvel’s The Avengers 5.4.2012 207 166 -20% 623 888
Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Pt 2 7.15.2011 169 104 -38% 381 947
Toy Story 3 6.18.2010 110 117 +6% 415 648
Avatar 12.18.2009 77 136 +77% 715 1991
Dark Knight 7.18.2008 158 155 -2% 533 466
Pirates Dead Man’s Chest 7.7.2006 136 123 -10% 423 642
Spider-Man 2 6.30.2004 152 104 -32% 373 410
Shrek 2 2.21.2004 129 108 -16% 441 475

It is incredible that American Sniper is even in the company of these other films, most of which played with enormous built-in audience interest (primarily by being part of an existing film franchise).  Where do we go form here?  The ultimate domestic box office for American Sniper is very hard to model — at this point anything seems possible.  As for the film’s potential overseas, the American military story normally does not travel well abroad.  It would be shocking for American Sniper to come close to overseas grosses of the comic book and YA source material above.  But at this point, it’s foolish to make any declarative statements about a movie that has simply crushed through the wall of expectations at every turn.



About the Author

Mitch Metcalf
MITCH METCALF has been tracking every US film release of over 500 screens (over 2300 movies and counting) since the storied weekend of May 20, 1994, when Maverick and Beverly Hills Cop 3 inspired countless aficionados to devote their lives to the art of cinema. Prior to that, he studied Politics and Economics at Princeton in order to prepare for his dream of working in television. He has been Head of West Coast Research at ABC, then moved to NBC in 2000 and became Head of Scheduling for 11 years.