Leonardo DiCaprio's 'The Revenant' scores at box office, but 'Star Wars' still No. 1

The new Leonardo DiCaprio revenge movie "The Revenant" enjoyed much stronger-than-expected business at the box office as the brutal epic expanded nationwide, though it couldn't quite top "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

"Star Wars" remained a box-office juggernaut with an estimated $41.6 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada on Friday through Sunday, taking its fourth straight weekend at the top of the domestic charts.

"The Revenant," directed by 2015 Oscar winner Alejandro G. Inarritu, generated an impressive $38 million, according to studio estimates, easily beating the gross of $20 million or more analysts had projected. 

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Widespread critical praise for DiCaprio's performance in the movie helped drive filmgoers to cinemas for the 2-hour, 36-minute adventure in which the actor plays a frontiersman left for dead by his team of fellow hunters.

The 20th Century Fox release is up for four honors at Sunday's Golden Globes: best picture (drama), actor, director and original score. Academy Award nominations are set to be announced this week. 

Awards analysts are closely watching the campaign for DiCaprio, who has been nominated for four acting Oscars during his career but has never won. The sustained buzz for "The Revenant" should keep people coming to the theaters well after its debut weekend.

"It's astounding. I think the film has touched a nerve," said Chris Aronson, head of domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox. "You have a remarkable performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, and you combine it with bold, innovative filmmaking Alejandro G. Inarritu is known for, and the audience embraces it."

"The Revenant's" commercial prospects are also benefiting from the prestige of Inarritu, who directed last year's Best Picture Oscar winner "Birdman," and costar Tom Hardy. Fox gave the R-rated movie an awards-qualifying run in four theaters starting Christmas Day.

The weekend's box-office performance is especially good news for Arnon Milchan's entertainment company New Regency, which co-financed the $135-million production. The film also got backing from other firms including RatPac Entertainment.  

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the seventh film in the Lucasfilm franchise, has grossed $812 million so far in the U.S. and Canada alone, passing "Avatar's" record of $760.5 million last week. 

It also took in $104 million internationally this weekend, bringing its global haul to more than $1.73 billion. That's enough to overtake "Jurassic World" as the third biggest global box-office ever, behind just "Titanic" and "Avatar." 

"Star Wars" posted huge opening weekend numbers in China, the world's second largest film market, where it debuted Saturday. "The Force Awakens" grossed an estimated $53 million in two days, the biggest Saturday-Sunday debut ever in that country. 

Meanwhile, Focus Features' Gramercy label introduced its new horror film "The Forest," starring "Game of Thrones" actress Natalie Dormer, which grossed a better-than-expected $13.1 million.

Aimed at younger females and Latino moviegoers, the PG-13 supernatural scary flick landed in fourth place at the domestic box office, behind the Paramount Pictures comedy "Daddy's Home." 

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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