Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘The Revenant’ Surprises ‘Star Wars’ at Friday Box Office

Fox’s frontier saga knocks off “The Force Awakens” with $14 million and the weekend race will go down to the wire with both around $37 million

“The Revenant,” a bone-chilling tale of frontier vengeance starring Leonardo DiCaprio, exploded for $14.4 million in its nationwide box-office debut on Friday, knocking “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” out of the top spot for the first time since it opened and turning the weekend race into a nail-biter.

Both the R-rated survival saga directed by 2015 Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu and Disney’s blockbuster space epic are on pace to finish the three days with around $37 million.

“The Force Awakens,” which became the all-time top-grossing film at the U.S. box office earlier this week, took in $10.7 million on Friday. It will have to rally to claim its fourth straight weekend win with the tale of real-life fur trapper Hugh Glass headed for a three-day haul that will be at least $15 million over analysts’ projections.

The PG-13-rated “Star Wars” may rate an edge because it should do more family business on Saturday and Sunday. It lifted its domestic total to $781 million and the worldwide total was at $1.6 billion prior to Saturday’s opening in China.

Regardless of who finishes on top this weekend, the opening is a momentum-building win for “The Revenant,” which received a “B+” CinemaScore from first-night audiences. The Oscar hopeful this week added nominations from the American Society of Cinematographers and Producers Guild to its four from the Golden Globes, and DiCaprio was nominated earlier by the Screen Actors Guild.

It’s also good news for Arnon Milchan‘s New Regency, Brett Ratner‘s RatPac, China’s Alpha Pictures and Empyre, who financed the film’s nearly year-long $135 million shoot in Canada, South America and the U.S.

Distributor Twentieth Century Fox muscled “The Revenant” into 3,375 theaters, impressive given the crowded post-holiday marketplace, after it averaged a strong $115,000 in four New York and L.A. theaters during a two-week Oscar qualifying run that began on Christmas Day. It got off to a strong start with $2.3 million in Thursday night previews.

The weekend’s other wide opener, Gramercy’s “The Forest,” is heading for a $12 million debut after taking in nearly $5 million at 2,451 theaters on Friday. Natalie Dormer from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” stars in the horror-thriller about a woman investigating her twin sister’s disappearance in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest. It received a “C” CinemaScore from typically tough-grading fans of the genre.

“The Forest” was in third Friday but by Sunday is likely to fall behind “Daddy’s Home,” which is looking at a $14 million third week for Paramount after taking in $4.2 million Friday. That would lift the domestic total for the Will Ferrell-Mark Wahlberg comedy to $115 million.

Quentin Tarantino‘s “The Hateful Eight” took a steep 70 percent drop from last Friday and was sixth with just under $2 million from 2,938 theaters after adding 460 locations. That puts it on course for $6 million over the three days for the Weinstein Company.

It will finish behind “Sisters,” Universal’s long-playing Amy Poehler-Tina Fey comedy, which is heading for a $7 million fourth week that will lift its domestic total to nearly $75 million. Paramount’s “The Big Short” wasn’t far behind “Hateful Eight” with $1.8 million Friday and will come in with around $6 million as well.

Fox’s Jennifer Lawrence comedy-drama “Joy” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip” and Sony’s “Concussion” rounded out Friday’s top 10.