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'American Sniper' shatters box office records over MLK weekend

#boxoffice: 'American Sniper' made $105.3 million through Monday. Its total gross to date: $108.7 million.

Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" shattered several box office records and surpassed tracking expectations over the busy four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

The war drama pulled in a whopping $105.3 million through Monday, making its total $108.7 million since its limited Christmas Day release. It was the biggest debut of Eastwood's career, edging ahead of his 2009 film "Gran Torino," which earned $29.48 million when it expanded in wide release.

It also became the biggest January weekend performance, surpassing the $68.5 million record held by "Avatar" in 2010. 

It also replaced  “Ride Along” as the biggest Martin Luther King Jr. weekend debut. Last year, the Kevin Hart comedy broke the record for top-grossing film over that holiday weekend with its $48.6-million premiere.

"American Sniper," which cost Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow about $58 million to make, is adapted from the Chris Kyle autobiography of the same name. It follows the story of Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a Navy SEAL known as the most lethal sniper in American history. It co-stars Sienna Miller.

"These are the moments in your business where you don’t see these things coming -- they certainly are few and far between," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. head of domestic distribution. "When you get an opportunity like this you rejoice. It’s a wonderful way for us to start the year."

"Sniper" enjoyed a 14% uptick on Saturday, suggesting it benefited from positive word of mouth. The film also enjoyed some fresh awards buzz. It was nominated for six Academy Awards on Thursday, including best picture and lead actor (Cooper). Eastwood also scored a nomination for the Directors Guild of America award for directorial achievement in a feature film.

The movie received a 73% positive rating from critic site Rotten Tomatoes and an A-plus grade from audience polling firm CinemaScore.

Fellman said despite the R rating, the film catered to many different audiences.

"It played as a film of patriotism," he said. "But it also played to an audience concerned with families and those who serve this country... In essence, this movie was the first real superhero movie and it played like one."

Meanwhile, with no other family films in the mix, “Paddington,” released by Weinstein Co.'s Dimension label, ended up in second with a $25.2-million debut.

The movie is based on the popular English children’s literature character Paddington Bear, created by Michael Bond. It stars Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Nicole Kidman and Ben Whishaw (who voices Paddington).

The Weinstein Co. bought domestic rights for the film, which cost about $55 million to make, from StudioCanal. 

"One of our concerns was that Paddington is such a well known character in Europe and parts of south America but we weren’t sure how audiences would react here in North America," said Erik Lomis, Weinstein Co.'s head of theatrical distribution. "But they clearly embraced the character and welcomed him with open arms."

It received an A-grade from CinemaScore and 98% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Lomis said he expects it will continue to play well.

Sony’s “The Wedding Ringer,” which stars Hart and Josh Gad, met studio expectations with a solid $24.5 million and third place debut. 

The comedy follows Doug Harris (Gad), a lovable but awkward groom-to-be without a best man. He hires Jimmy Callahan (Hart), whose company provides flattering best men for guys in need.

Sony has been promoting the film in full force. Hart and Gad crashed a real Indian wedding, performed a wedding ceremony live on “Good Morning America” and engaged in a dance-off in a promo that aired on “Ellen.”

“Taken 3,” last week’s box-office winner, was in fourth and added about $17.4 million in the Friday-Monday period. The Liam Neeson film has made almost $70 million to date.

"Selma" rounded out the top five, adding $11.5 million to its total domestic haul. To date, the film has made about $30 million. The Ava DuVernay-directed film dramatizes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (played by David Oyelowo) in 1965 as he organizes and leads a march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

Meanwhile, newcomer “Blackhat” debuted to No. 11. It grossed a paltry $4.4 million over the long weekend, falling short of studio and tracking expectations. Universal Pictures released Legendary’s film, which cost about $70 million to make. 

Directed by Michael Mann, the action-thriller follows a furloughed convict (Chris Hemsworth) as he and others hunt a cybercrime network from Chicago to Jakarta. 

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