Weekend Box Office: Universal Rides 'Ride Along' & 'Lone Survivor' to Business Boom in Record Weekend

"Ride Along" tops the box office. (Credit: Universal)

Just a few weeks into 2014 and we already have a new box office record.

The Kevin Hart/Ice Cube led cop comedy Ride Along was expected to do well over this MLK weekend, but nobody expected it to do this well! The movie took in $41.2 million over the three-day frame, with estimates now hitting around $48 million for the entire holiday weekend. However, while Ride Along's distributor Universal is having a banner weekend, it wasn't a great holiday for all the studios.

Universal (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) )

The line:

Ride Along
Finish: 1st place / Budget: $25 million / 4-day estimated total: $48 million

Lone Survivor
Finish: 2nd place/ Budget: $40 million / 4-day estimated total: $27.6 million / Total to date: $78.4 million

The analysis:

Ride Along had an amazing debut, but it wasn't just the fact that it topped the charts that makes this such an impressive win for Universal Studios. The movie was expected to gross around $30 million, but instead is going to end up closer to $50 million. As a result, the movie has now topped previous record holder Cloverfield, which back in 2008 pulled in $40.1 million over its first three days and a total of $46.1 million over the full four-day weekend. Ride Along also now becomes the top opener for any film released in January over a three-day span.

Yet Universal didn't just have one big success this weekend. Lone Survivor's second week earned the Afghanistan war drama another $27.6 million, taking its two-week total to $78.4 million. The Mark Wahlberg led ensemble also took home honors at the prestigious Critics Choice Awards Friday night and now has shown itself to be a major box office force. That's good news for both Universal and the film's director, Peter Berg, who were still stinging from last year's disastrous summer flop Battleship.

The future:

Universal has now gone two for two in 2014. The studio couldn't have asked for a better financial start to the year and it's not done yet. Universal's slate has a total of five films due over the first three months of 2014. Next up is the Valentine's Day romance flick Endless Love, the Liam Nesson led actioner Non-Stop, and the Chris Pine/Jessica Alba comedy Stretch. Of those, ­Non-Stop is the one to watch as Liam Nesson has a unbelievable track record at launching successful first-quarter action movies and there's no reason to think this year will be any different.

Open Road (AMC (NYSE: AMC  ) and Regal Cinemas  (NYSE: RGC  ) )

The line:

The Nut Job:  Finish: 3rd place / Budget: $30 million / 4-eay estimated total: $27.2 million

The analysis:

Of all the movies this weekend, Open Road's The Nut Job was not expected to be a major player. However, the modestly priced 3D animated comedy earned $20.6 million over the three-day weekend and looks to be on track for a $27 million four-day gross. With a voice cast including Will Arnett and Brendan Fraser, the movie was a welcomed sight for theatergoers who were looking for a new kid pic. Nut Job was the Open Road's first animated film and it has provided the studio's best opening weekend ever.

The future:

Open Road has only released 16 movies and most have been adult action flicks, so this was a major coup for the studio. It was also a much needed hit as Open Road banked on Justin Bieber to end 2013 -- his documentary Justin Bieber's Believe completely missed the mark. The future doesn't look too bad for Open Road either as next up is March's horror spoof comedy A Haunted House 2, the sequel to last year's surprise hit. The Arnold Schwarzenegger led ensemble Sabotage then follows in April.

Paramount (a subsidiary of Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA  ) )

The line:

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Finish: 4th place / Budget: $60 million / 4-day estimated total: $20.4 million

The analysis:

The latest attempt to reboot Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan franchise failed to live up its lofty expectations as the movie will open in fourth place. Starring Chris Pine as the title character, the movie earned $17.2 million over its first three days and a total of $20.4 million for the full holiday. By comparison, that puts it just a fraction ahead of The Hunt for Red October, which bowed to $17.1 million back in 1990 and introduced Ryan to film audiences.

It's easy to see why some believe Paramount mishandled this release and basically sacrificed it in order to ensure The Wolf of Wall Street was able to have a successful launch to its Oscar campaign. The film was moved from December to clear space for Wolf and Paramount gambled it could overtake Ride Along, which it did not. However, Wolf had a strong showing on Oscar morning last week, so one side of the gamble worked out.

The future:

Ryan did score an additional $22.4 million internationally, so Paramount at least has that going for it, but overall this has been a disappointing year for the studio. Following the under-performance of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and now this, the studio will have to wait until March for its next big tentpole release; Noah. While it will have two smaller releases (the expanding Labor Day and the time travel drama Welcome to Yesterday) prior to Noah, neither is expected to be a major player. Directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe, the religious drama will have a major influence on studio projections for 2014.

20th Century Fox (a subsidiary of News Corp (NASDAQ: NWS  ) )

The line:

Devil's Due:
Finish: 6th place / Budget: $7 million/ 4-day estimated total: $9 million

The analysis:

Produced for just $7 million, Due easily made back its money, but becomes the second horror film in so many weeks to stall out of the gate. It's entirely possible audiences are no longer jumping to go see these types of movies. Next week's horror/sci-fi fantasy flick I, Frankenstein, will really give analysts a clearer picture of what moviegoers are willing to pay for these days.

The future:

The studio's lineup for 2014 includes a number of major tentpole releases including March's Mr. Peabody and Sherman and April's Rio 2, so Due was never the type of movie to make or break a studio's financial year. Sure, it would have been nice to see it perform better, but executives (and stockholders) are banking more on other projects to keep them in the black.

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