The patriotic Navy SEAL drama starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster smashed expectations to earn $38.5 million domestically in its first weekend in wide release, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The Universal film directed by "Friday Night Lights" and "Battleship" filmmaker Peter Berg is based on Marcus Luttrell's memoir about a dangerous mission his Navy SEAL team embarked on in Afghanistan in 2005.
"We're thrilled for us, the filmmakers and Marcus, who—as brave as a man as he is—continues to be brave in telling this true story," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. "It's an amazing result. What's most gratifying about this is that it's been endorsed by every quadrant of the movie-going audience: young, old, male, female."
Rocco said "Lone Survivor" performed particularly well in middle America. The movie's launch marks the second biggest opening for a film in January, after the $40.1 million debut of the monster movie "Cloverfield" in 2008.
"We had an inkling it'd do well when it opened in limited release in December, but projections had it coming in between $17 million to $28 million," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "Nothing had it coming close to $40 million."
In its eighth weekend, Disney's icy animated tale "Frozen" stayed cool in the No. 2 spot, earning $15 million and bringing its domestic total to $317 million, passing Disney Animation's $312 million record set by "The Lion King" in 1994. "Frozen" also topped the international box office with $27.8 million from 50 international markets.
Paramount's controversial "The Wolf of Wall Street" scored No. 3 in its third weekend, earning $9 million and boosting its total domestic haul to $78.6 million. The hedonistic tycoon drama directed by Martin Scorsese stars Leonardo DiCaprio as reckless stock broker Jordan Belfort. The film earned an additional $10 million from 17 international territories.
Lionsgate's "The Legend of Hercules," the weekend's only other major release, tied Sony's "American Hustle" for the No. 4 position, with both films earning $8.6 million, according to studio estimates.
"American Hustle," whose domestic total now stands at $101.5 million, also earned an extra $5.2 million this weekend from four international territories. The con-artist caper leads the nominees at Sunday's Golden Globes alongside "12 Years a Slave" with seven nods each.
Several other awards contenders expanded into wide release this weekend ahead of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's glitzy ceremony, including the Weinstein Co.'s "August: Osage County" at No. 6 with $7.3 million, Warner Bros.' "Her" at No. 10 with $5.4 million and CBS Films' "Inside Llewyn Davis" at No. 14 with $1.9 million.
Overseas, Universal's animated sequel "Despicable Me 2" earned $13.8 million alone in China, where it opened this weekend seven months after its initial release. The original animated film featuring the voice of Steve Carrell was not released in China.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday:
1. "Lone Survivor," $38.5 million ($750,000 international).
2. "Frozen," $15 million ($27.8 million international).
3. "The Wolf of Wall Street," $9 million ($10 million international).
4. "The Legend of Hercules," $8.6 million ($650,000 international).
(tie) "American Hustle," $8.6 million ($5.2 million international).
5. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," $8 million ($22.2 million international).
6. "August: Osage County," $7.3 million ($175,000 international).
7. "Saving Mr. Banks," $6.6 million.
8. "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," $6.3 million ($15.5 million international).
9. "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," $6.1 million ($3 million international).
10. "Her," $5.4 million.
Estimated weekend ticket sales Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:
1. "Frozen," $27.8 million.
2. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," $22.2 million.
3. "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," $15.5 million.
4. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," $14.4 million.
5. "Despicable Me 2," $13.8 million.
6. "The Wolf of Wall Street," $10 million.
7. "47 Ronin," $9.7 million.
8. "The Attorney," $6.7 million.
(tie) "The Physician," $6.7 million.
9. "Walking With Dinosaurs," $6.3 million.
10. "Ender's Game," $6 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang.