‘Ride Along’ wins at box office over Martin Luther King Day weekend

The cop comedy “Ride Along” drove past expectations to win at the box office and set records over the Martin Luther King Day weekend, proving again that studios shouldn’t underestimate the diverse film audience.

The Universal Pictures buddy movie, which stars comedian Kevin Hart and actor-rapper Ice Cube, grossed a studio-estimated $48.1 million in ticket sales through Monday in the U.S. and Canada, easily beating last week’s winner, “Lone Survivor,” and new entrants including “The Nut Job” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”

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Not adjusting for inflation, “Ride Along” set the record for the four-day Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend, topping 2008’s monster movie “Cloverfield.” Also, “Ride Along’s” Friday-through-Sunday total of $41.6 million was the biggest January three-day opening ever.

“Ride Along,” which cost $25 million to make, generated just 12% of its revenue from white moviegoers. Its audience was 50% African American and 30% Hispanic.

The movie benefited from good timing, said Nikki Rocco, president of distribution at Universal Pictures. “When we were setting up the release days for movies after the holidays, it just looked like the perfect time to release an urban comedy.”

Although it received lackluster reviews, “Ride Along” was well received by those who saw it, evidenced by a grade of A from the audience polling firm CinemaScore.

The Comcast Corp.-owned studio is enjoying a solid start to the new year. The studio’s “Lone Survivor” — last week’s best performer — also surpassed expectations, in part by attracting a diverse crowd. Just 48% of those who bought tickets were white.

“Lone Survivor” finished in second place this time around, with an estimated gross of $26.4 million through Monday. The estimated cumulative domestic take is $77.2 million for the $40-million film.

“A one-two punch is great,” Rocco said. “In order to be successful you have to have a diverse slate.”

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“Ride Along” is further evidence of Hart’s appeal, coming after the strong performance of the fast-talking comedian’s 2013 stand-up concert movie, “Let Me Explain.”

Overall, the film industry had a strong weekend compared with a year earlier, up about 30% to $212 million in revenue for the four-day window. That’s still well below Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2009, when theatrical movies — led by “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Gran Torino,” “My Bloody Valentine” and “Notorious” — grossed more than $231 million.

“The Nut Job,” a 3-D critter caper distributed by Open Road Films, grossed around $25.3 million, beating “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” for a third-place finish — a better-than-expected result for an animated film not from a major studio. The production from Gulfstream Pictures, Red Rover International and ToonBox Entertainment features the voices of celebrities including Will Arnett, Brendan Fraser, Gabriel Iglesias and Katherine Heigl.

Paramount Pictures’ $60-million “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” a reboot starring Chris Pine as Jack Ryan, the Tom Clancy-created CIA character, generated $18 million in ticket sales over four days, about in line with projections. Reviews were mixed, and moviegoers gave it a B CinemaScore grade.

“Frozen,” the highly successful animated Disney musical, landed in fifth place with a four-day run of $16.2 million, bringing its domestic total to around $337 million.

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Meanwhile, the new low-budget horror offering “Devil’s Due,” from 20th Century Fox, scared up about $9.3 million through Monday to finish in seventh place.

Some awards hopefuls got a boost after Oscar nominations were announced Thursday. “American Hustle,” nominated for 10 Academy Awards, took in $11.5 million through four days, bringing its estimated cumulative gross to $117 million. Its Friday-through-Sunday tally improved 19% from the previous weekend.

Weinstein Co.’s “August: Osage County,” nominated for two Oscars, added theaters and saw revenue rise about 3% for the three-day time frame to $7.37 million. For the four days through Monday, it brought in $8.89 million. Paramount’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” up for five Academy Awards, reduced its theater count by nearly 600 and saw its weekend gross drop from last week, landing at No. 9 with $8.3 million through the holiday.

Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks” rounded out the top 10 with a $4.79-million take, bringing its domestic total to $76 million.

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