UPDATE 1-Eastwood's "American Sniper" wins big in U.S. box office battle

Sun Jan 18, 2015 1:44pm EST
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By Chris Michaud

NEW YORK Jan 18 (Reuters) - Oscar-nominated war film "American Sniper" led U.S. and Canadian box office charts over the weekend with a record-smashing $90.2 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates.

The film, which broke the record for a January weekend as well as for any drama opening ever, was directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Bradley Cooper.

"American Sniper" virtually doubled industry expectations after widely expanding to some 3,500 screens from just a handful of theaters the day after scoring six Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor for Cooper, who plays a Navy Seal sharpshooter.

R-rated comedy "The Wedding Ringer" finished second with $21 million for three days through Sunday during the U.S. Martin Luther King Day holiday weekend.

Another new release, family film "Paddington" based on the series of classic children's books about a loveable bear, was third with $19.3 million, but could move up to second after Monday when schools are closed.

Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution at the Time Warner Inc. unit Warner Bros., which distributed "American Sniper," said it had become "an instant cultural phenomenon."

"People in small towns, big and small cities, in the heartland, in both red and blue states, people who go to the movies once every year or two, they all came out," Fellman said.   Continued...