For a second consecutive weekend, Universal saw one of its films break out in in a big way, as its Ride Along easily led the three-day frame with an estimated $41.2 million. The action comedy starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube had been widely expected to perform well heading into the weekend, but was still able to exceed its lofty expectations. Ride Along set new unadjusted three-day opening weekend records for both Martin Luther King Day weekend and the month of January as a whole. Both records were previously held by the $40.06 million start of 2008's Cloverfield. The official four-day estimate for Ride Along currently stands at $47.8 million, which would top the $46.15 million four-day take of Cloverfield. That is also an impressive 24 percent stronger than the $38.44 million four-day start of The Book of Eli over Martin Luther King weekend back in 2010.
Clearly Kevin Hart was the driving force in the success of Ride Along this weekend. The film's performance is especially promising for the comedian going forward, as Hart will continue to transition into his film career throughout 2014 with upcoming releases that include next month's About Last Night and June's Think Like a Man Too. While the rush out of Hart's growing fanbase could potentially lead to some front-loading for Ride Along, that could also be offset by strong word of mouth, as the film received a strong A rating on CinemaScore.
Somewhat surprisingly, the audience breakdown for Ride Along skewed fairly heavily towards female moviegoers (57 percent). The film also skewed towards moviegoers 25 and older (54 percent).
Universal also claimed second place over the three-day frame, as Lone Survivor took in an estimated $23.2 million. The Peter Berg directed war film starring Mark Wahlberg was down a solid 39 percent from last weekend's stronger than expected start. In comparison, last year Zero Dark Thirty fell 35 percent in its second weekend of release (also over Martin Luther King Day weekend) to gross $15.79 million. The official four-day estimate for Lone Survivor stands at $27.6 million. That brings the film's total to $78.4 million after eleven days of wide release, which is 38 percent stronger than the $56.95 million Zero Dark Thirty had grossed at the same point in its run.
The weekend's biggest surprise was The Nut Job, which opened in third over the three-day frame with an estimated $20.55 million. Online buzz levels had been soft for the 3D computer animated film from Open Road leading up to its release, but family audiences were clearly ready for something new this weekend. The Nut Job delivered the largest opening weekend ever for distributor Open Road, just topping the $19.67 million start of 2012's The Grey. The film's performance is an especially welcome sign for Open Road, who was coming off a string of disappointing performers throughout much of 2013. With an official four-day estimate of $27.2 million, The Nut Job opened 19 percent stronger than the $22.87 million four-day start of 2009's Hotel for Dogs and is within shouting distance of Lone Survivor for second place over the four-day frame. The film received a B rating on CinemaScore.
The news wasn't anywhere near as good for Paramount's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit which debuted in fourth over the three-day frame with an estimated $17.2 million. The attempted franchise re-launch starring Chris Pine and Keira Knightley opened on the low end of expectations, which had been softened a bit after the film was moved from its previous Christmas Day release slot. At the end of the day, there was simply still too much competition for Jack Ryan to stand out, as the break-out performances of Ride Along and Lone Survivor and the continued presence of Oscar nominees for Best Picture in the marketplace have limited the potential audience for Jack Ryan. The official four-day estimate for Jack Ryan stands at $20.0 million. The film received a so-so B rating on CinemaScore, which isn't the greatest early sign going forward. On the other hand, the film did register a strong estimated three-day opening weekend to Friday ratio of 3.19 to 1. The saving grace for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is that is carries a relatively modest reported production budget of $60 million.
The weekend's other new wide release, Fox's Devil's Due opened all the way down in seventh with an estimated $8.5 million. The low-budget horror film debuted in line with its modest expectations and 54 percent softer than the recent $18.34 million start of Paramount's Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. For the four-day frame, Devil's Due is headed for a take in the area of $9.5 million. With a D+ rating on CinemaScore and the typically front-loaded nature of found footage horror films in general, expect Devil's Due to fade away from theatres very quickly.
Even with the break-out performance of The Nut Job, Disney's Frozen remained strong this weekend with an estimated fifth place three-day take of $11.97 million. That represented a slim 19 percent decline from last weekend. The official four-day estimate for Frozen stands at $16.399 million, which brings the film's domestic total to a massive $337.03 million.
Noteworthy performances for films that received major Academy Award nominations included three-day estimated takes of $10.60 million for Sony's American Hustle, $7.59 million for The Weinstein Company's August: Osage County and $7.50 million for Paramount's The Wolf of Wall Street. American Hustle was up an impressive 28 percent over last weekend, August: Osage County was up 5 percent (thanks in part to receiving a major theatre expansion) and The Wolf of Wall Street was down just 15 percent. Respective total grosses through Sunday stand at $116.43 million for American Hustle, at $90.28 million for The Wolf of Wall Street and at $18.18 million for August: Osage County.