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Box office preview: 'American Sniper' to top the weekend

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American Sniper

Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has only been playing in four theaters since its Dec. 26 limited release, yet it’s somehow managed to gross $3.4 million—a number that foreshadows an impressive weekend when the film opens wide Friday.

It has some competition though: The Wedding Ringer, Paddington, and Blackhat are also opening this weekend, each in at least 2,500 theaters. That’s not to mention Taken 3, the Liam Neeson-led action flick that had an impressive $39.2 million debut last weekend and that should still be a contender in the top five for at least another week or two.

Still Alice, which nabbed an Oscar nod for Julianne Moore’s performance as a professor suffering from Alzheimer’s, is opening in limited release this weekend, but not in enough theaters to make it to the top of the box office. Here’s our predictions who will:

1. American Sniper — $50 million

American Sniper was already doing well in theaters… and then it was nominated for six Academy Awards this morning, including one for Best Picture. Before, it was a movie people were going to see because it’s a war movie and people love war movies. Now, it’s a movie people are going to see because of the aforementioned reason and because it now has prestige attached to it. Although Clint Eastwood films aren’t known for strong openings—Jersey Boys opened with just $13.3 million this summer, and J. Edgar with $11.2 million in 2011—but this one has so much going for it that it’s bound to stray from the pack.

2. The Wedding Ringer — $25 million

History’s repeating itself: Last year, Kevin Hart starred in cop comedy Ride Along that opened Jan. 17. Now, the comedian is starring in The Wedding Ringer, out the same weekend a year later. But while Ride Along had a $41.5 million opening, The Wedding Ringer isn’t likely to do as well. Hart is undeniably a draw for viewers, but this weekend’s line-up is stacked with other big movies with more prestige and hype that viewers must gravitate toward instead. But there will always be comedy fans who just want to see a fun movie regardless of reviews, and those will be the people who help launch the film at the number two spot.

3. Paddington  $20 million

The rest of the movies opening this weekend are either too heavy or too inappropriate for kids, but Paddington is the one film that anyone can see. Between this family appeal and the fact that it’s getting good reviews across the board, Paddington is likely to have a good first weekend that places it above thrillers Taken 3 and Blackhat in terms of the box office.

4. Taken 3$19.6 million

Taken 3‘s first weekend was expected to match the first film’s opening of $24.7 million, but instead it was closer to Taken 2‘s $49.5 million with a strong $39.2 million opening. But with all the new films out, Taken 3 isn’t likely to last at the top of the box office much longer and will probably drop by about 50 percent or so this weekend.

5. Selma $12 million

Yes, Selma made just $11.3 million last weekend; yes, it has newcomer Blackhat to compete against this weekend. It’s completely possible it could fall out of the top five, but its Best Picture nomination should help it have a second wind matching (at the very least) last weekend’s gross. And as if the added prestige isn’t enough to attract moviegoers, the fact that Monday is Martin Luther King Day is.