‘Star Wars’ Holds Off Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘The Revenant’ in Box Office Thriller

“The Force Awakens” narrowly edges frontier vengeance saga with $41 million to claim 4th straight win

The Revenant

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” rose to the greatest challenge of its record-breaking run this weekend, taking in $41.6 million to narrowly edge Leonardo DiCaprio‘s “The Revenant” and capture its fourth consecutive U.S. box office triumph.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s frontier vengeance epic exploded in its nationwide debut, taking in $39.5 million for Fox and giving Disney’s blockbuster space epic all it could handle just days after “The Force Awakens” became the all-time champ of the U.S. box office.

“Star Wars” became the first movie to top $800 million domestically, and after adding $104 million from overseas — driven by a record-breaking $53 million debut in China — became the No. 3 movie on the all-time worldwide box office list behind only “Avatar” and “Titanic.” The movie has grossed $1.73 billion in just four weeks.

“The Force Awakens” needed every one of those domestic dollars to hold off “The Revenant,” which had upset J.J. Abrams‘ sci-fi epic on Friday and finished the weekend nearly doubling pre-release projections for its wide opening.

The PG-13-rated “The Force Awakens” rallied back from its Friday deficit behind families, who drove a $19 million Saturday, well ahead of the roughly $15 million that “The Revenant” took in on its second day.

“Everything associated with the run of this movie has been a wonderful surprise,” Dave Hollis, Disney’s distribution chief told TheWrap Sunday, “and this is one more example of that.”

The weekend’s other wide opener, Gramercy’s “The Forest,” debuted on the high end of expectations with $13 million from 2,451 theaters. 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.

“The Forest” was in third Friday but fell behind “Daddy’s Home,” which was third with a $15 million third week that lifted the domestic total for Paramount’s Will FerrellMark Wahlberg comedy to $116 million.

Quentin Tarantino‘s “The Hateful Eight” took a steep 60 percent drop from last weekend and was sixth with $6.3 million from 2,938 theaters after the Weinstein Company added 460 locations.

Fox muscled “The Revenant” into 3,375 theaters this weekend, 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.

“This is what makes this business so great,” Chris Aronson, Fox’s distribution president, told TheWrap on Sunday. “You have a remarkable performance from Leo along with bold and innovative filmmaking from Alejandro and an extremely compelling story, and that’s what was embraced by audiences.”

“The Revenant” made a surprisingly strong bid to knock off Disney’s box office behemoth, and the film handily defeated “The Force Awakens” on Friday night with a $14 million first day.

Aronson gave much of the credit to the movie’s heavily bearded and beat-upon star, Leonardo DiCaprio. “He’s one of the very few that can do something like this. It doesn’t always happen and it has to be the right movie, and this one clearly was,” he said. DiCaprio’s star power clearly boosted the appeal of the R-rated and gritty saga of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper who fights his way back to his family after being mauled by a bear and left for dead. Despite the dearth of female characters on screen, women made up 43 percent of the audience.

Even though it wound up second, the weekend was a momentum-building victory for “The Revenant,” which received a “B+” CinemaScore from audiences. Its box-office breakout is sure to be the talk of Sunday night’s Golden Globes Awards, for which it received four nominations. Earlier this week, the movie added nominations from the American Society of Cinematographers and Producers Guild and DiCaprio was nominated earlier by the Screen Actors Guild.

The stunning showing was 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.