Box Office: How 'Lone Survivor' Crushed Expectations as 'Frozen' Set Another Record

Lone survivor just doubled the most optimistic expectations for its weekend box office launch. Here's how.

Jan 13, 2014 at 3:16PM

Disney, Sony, Comcast, Lions Gate, Viacom compete for box office crown

Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell is portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in Lone Survivor, Image source: Comcast/Universal Studios

On Friday, I said I wouldn't be surprised if the weekend box office debut of Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal's R-rated Lone Survivor managed to "handily exceed" expectations. After all, the based-on-a-true-story war epic was not only enjoying strong advance ticket sales, but had also drawn high praise from critics, who are hailing it as the Saving Private Ryan of our generation.

But I certainly didn't expect this.

According to preliminary totals from each studio, Lone Survivor easily won the weekend by hauling in more than $38.5 million in the U.S., nearly equal to its $40 million production budget and more than double the $15 million earned by Disney's (NYSE:DIS) second-place holdover in Frozen.

That's also more than double the high end of Comcast's own estimates, and good enough for the second-highest January opening of all time behind only the $40 million earned by 2008's Cloverfield. What's more, Lone Survivor's launch is the most successful of any post-9/11 war film, easily beating the $28.6 million grossed by 2001's Black Hawk Down, and $24.4 million from Zero Dark Thirty in 2012.

To the credit of its predecessors, however, keep in mind both Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down still technically hold an edge, having earned the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $51.1 million and $38.6 million, respectively.   

But polled audiences also granted Lone Survivor a rare "A+" CinemaScore, which means the film should enjoy overwhelmingly positive word of mouth going forward -- a likely testament to the studio's efforts to avoid political statements and focus instead on the themes of brotherhood, heroism, and courage. 

No tears for Disney...

For some perspective, consider Disney's fellow "A+" winner Frozen, which not only set records with its own Thanksgiving launch, but also miraculously managed to win the top spot seven days ago after six full weekends in theaters. In fact, Frozen's most recent $15 million was the highest seventh-weekend total for any animated film, and the fourth-highest overall, trailing only Avatar, Titanic, and The Passion of the Christ. 

As a result, Frozen has earned an incredible $712.3 million globally so far, or nearly five times Disney's $150 million production budget.

Meanwhile, Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB) Paramount's holdover in The Wolf of Wall Street managed a distant third place this weekend at just $9 million, bringing its current worldwide gross to $97.1 million after three weeks. All things considered -- and keeping in mind Viacom merely has a distribution deal in place with Wolf financier Red Granite Pictures -- it appears The Wolf of Wall Street won't substantially exceed its lofty $100 million budget, although it could see a bump from star Leonardo DiCaprio's Golden Globes victory last night.

Speaking of under-performers, Lions Gate's (NYSE:LGF) The Legend of Hercules earned just $8.6 million in its debut, sharing fourth place with Sony (NYSE:SNE) Pictures' fifth week overachiever American Hustle. Like Viacom, however, Lions Gate muted its risk this time by simply acquiring distribution rights to Hercules from primary financier Millennium Films. The folks at Sony, on the other hand, should be pleased with the performance of American Hustle, the global gross from which has nearly tripled Sony's reasonable $40 million budget.

Finally, Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug managed to earn only $8 million in its fifth week stateside. However, note international audiences continued to prop up the epic sequel, accounting for 70% of all sales so far and bringing its worldwide total over $808 million.

Coming up next

Viacom hopes to steal some of Comcast's thunder next weekend with the 3,000-theater release of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The action-thriller should benefit both from a broader audience from its PG-13 rating, and a built-in fan base given the popularity of the character and producer Mace Neufeld's experience bringing Tom Clancy's books to life. Remember, as the most recent film in the Jack Ryan universe, The Sum of All Fears managed a solid $31.2 million weekend launch in 2002. 

If one thing's for sure, however, it's that Lone Survivor is a huge hit. Unless Shadow Recruit can absolutely wow audiences this Friday, it'll have plenty of work to do breaking through the buzz surrounding this week's champion.

Here's how you can profit

All of the aforementioned companies are making millions at the box office, but did you know you can benefit, too?

If you want to figure out how to profit on business analysis like this, the key is to learn how to turn business insights into portfolio gold by taking your first steps as an investor. Those who wait on the sidelines are missing out on huge gains and putting their financial futures in jeopardy. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you what you need to get started, and even gives you access to some stocks to buy first. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

Fool contributor Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.


Compare Brokers