Why Chris Hemsworth’s ‘Blackhat’ May Not Break Out Despite Timely Cyber-Terror Plot

At this weekend’s box office, “American Sniper’ and “Taken 3” are very tough action competition for Universal’s Michael Mann thriller

Last Updated: January 14, 2015 @ 11:29 AM

“Blackhat,” the Michael Mann-directed movie about international cyberhacking that opens Friday, could hardly be more timely given the November attack on Sony Pictures. But the R-rated thriller starring Chris Hemsworth and Viola Davis is a very long shot to break out at the box office over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend that kicks off Friday.

It’s projected to take in around $10 million over the four days — not what Legendary Entertainment and distributor Universal Pictures envisioned from “Blackhat,” which has a $70 million production budget.

The Bradley Cooper Iraq War saga “American Sniper” will be coming in with huge momentum and is expected to dominate a very busy weekend. It’s had a terrific limited run and could well receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination Thursday, so analysts believe it could top $50 million over the long weekend for Warner Bros.

Also debuting is Kevin Hart’s comedy ‘The Wedding Ringer,” which is projected to open with between $20 million and $25 million for Sony Pictures. Paramount’s civil rights drama “Selma” should get a boost from the MLK holiday and may do around $20 million in its second weekend in wide release, as could “Paddington,” The Weinstein Company’s live-action/CGI kids film that opens Friday as well.

“Taken 3” is the reigning champ and, given their similar target audience of male action fans, Fox’s Liam Neeson vengeance tale  and a strong showing by the Clint Eastwood-directed and similarly R-rated “American Sniper” could put a serious hit on “Blackhat.”

“Blackhat” should recoup some of its cost overseas, where it opens this weekend in roughly 15 markets. It was  filmed in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta as well as Chicago and Los Angeles, and has an international cast that includes Wei Tang, Leehom Wang and Tracy Chimo. Legendary CEO Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni produced, along with Mann.

“Blackhat” is soft on social media and wasn’t screened early so there aren’t many reviews. And it isn’t among the leaders in early advance sales on MovieTickets.com and Fandango, where “American Sniper” was accounting for 70 percent of the sales on Thursday morning.

There’s some irony in the situation for Universal, which is opening “Blackhat” in more than 2,566 theaters. About this time last year, the studio had a breakout hit with the Afghan War film “Lone Survivor,” starring Mark Wahlberg. Its $37.8 million debut was the third-best ever in January.

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“American Sniper” is coming off a terrific but very limited Oscar-qualifying run.

It’s averaged $144,000-plus while playing in four theaters for three weekends since opening on Christmas Day, and has taken in more than $3.2 million. A terrific limited run doesn’t always translate into mainstream success – consider “The Master” – but this one looks like it will.

The Village Roadshow drama was adapted by Jason Hall from Chris Kyle’s autobiography of the same name, and recounts Kyle’s return home to his family as a different man after a tour as a deadly marksman in Iraq.

Tracking suggests the patriotic themes of “American Sniper” have struck a chord, especially with Heartland audiences, and Warner Bros. marketers are doing their best to connect with military families.

It’s at 75 percent positive on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes, and is stronger on social media than “Lone Survivor” was at a similar stage.

“American Sniper” has a $40 million production budget and is produced by Andrew Lazar, Robert Lorenz and Tim Moore, along with Cooper, Eastwood and Hall. It will be in more than 3,200 theaters.

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The Screen Gems comedy “The Wedding Ringer” is the latest collaboration for Sony and Hart, who scored last year with “Think Like a Man Too” and “About Last Night.” Hart also had a stunning $49.5 million debut on this weekend last year, the best January opening ever.

“The Wedding Ringer” is directed by Jeremy Garelick, who co-wrote Jay Lavender, and co-stars Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco and Olivia Thirlby. Will Packer and Garelick produced the comedy, which has a $23 million production budget.

All of Hart’s 2014 movies had opening to at least $25 million, but this one may struggle to get there, in part because of its R-rating. The tracking isn’t strong. and on Twitter and Facebook it’s behind where “About Last Night” was at a similar stage, even though Hart is a social media dynamo. He’s hosting “Saturday Night Love” this week, and that should help.

Sony will have it in more than 3,000 theaters.

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TWC’s family film “Paddington” is based on Michael Bond’s 20 novels about the bear in the floppy hat, which are beloved by the British. The movie is a hit in the U.K., where it has grossed more than $40 million.

Nicole Kidman stars, along with Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville of TV’s “Downton Abbey” and a computer-generated bear, voiced by Ben Whishaw, who stepped in for Colin Firth. Paul King writes and directs.

Studio Canal financed the $55 million family film, the most expensive ever for the French company, and David Heyman of “Harry Potter” fame is the producer.

Americans will be more likely to buy into the bear if the film works, and critics think it does. It is at a sterling 97 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Paddington” was originally set for a Christmas Day release. TWC moved into the MLK  holiday weekend to avoid competition with other holiday family films. It will be in around 3,000 theaters.