'Lone Survivor' ambushes 'Frozen' to top weekend box office

Universal Pictures' Afghanistan war drama "Lone Survivor" stormed movie theaters over the weekend, while "The Legend of Hercules" debuted to less-than-legendary results.

"Lone Survivor," based on Marcus Luttrell's bestselling first-hand account of an ill-fated Navy SEAL mission, grossed a strong studio-estimated $38.5 million in ticket sales through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada, making it the top-grossing title domestically. 

The $40-million action movie, which stars Mark Wahlberg (as Luttrell), Emile Hirsch, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana, surpassed analyst expectations at the box office and marks the second biggest January debut ever, not adjusting for inflation, behind 2008's "Cloverfield."

WATCH: Cast, crew discuss the making of 'Lone Survivor'

It also opened better than recent movies with similar subject matter. "Zero Dark Thirty" debuted wide with $24.4 million last year and 2012's Navy SEAL saga "Act of Valor" launched with $24.5 million.

Critics' reviews have been generally favorable for "Lone Survivor," and audience responses have been especially so. "Lone Survivor" received overwhelmingly positive reactions from both male and female audiences, who both gave it an A-plus grade, according to the polling firm CinemaScore.  

"Lone Survivor" benefited from the support of Luttrell, who gave numerous interviews to promote the movie. It performed especially well in middle-America, including Luttrell's home state of Texas, said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of distribution.

"This picture has tremendous strength in the heartland," Rocco said. "The picture is going to have great legs, and it deserves to have great legs."

Counting an initial run in limited release to qualify for awards consideration, "Lone Survivor" has generated $38.9 million so far. 

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Disney's "Frozen" posted $15.1 million for a second-place finish, bringing its domestic cumulative take to nearly $318 million since its opening in late November. The animated musical was the fourth highest grossing movie of 2013, behind just "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," "Iron Man 3" and "Despicable Me 2." Counting revenue from overseas, "Frozen" has grossed an estimated $712 million so far.  

Martin Scorsese's "Wolf of Wall Street," which has sparked controversy for its depiction of Jordan Belfort's real-life excess and corruption in the late 1980s financial system, grossed $9 million in its third weekend, bringing its estimated total to $78.6 million. 

As expected, "The Legend of Hercules" showed little might at the multiplex. The first of two 2014 movies about the Roman half-god, it muscled just $8.6 million over the three days. "Legend of Hercules" -- which stars Kellan Lutz, of "Twilight" fame, as the title character -- was produced by Millennium Films and is distributed by Lionsgate's Summit Entertainment.  

"American Hustle," from David O. Russell, continued to pull in moviegoers throughout the weekend of the Golden Globe Awards, notching $8.6 million over three days to tie "Hercules" and likely bringing its cumulative domestic gross across the $100-million mark. 

The Weinstein Co.'s "August: Osage County," John Wells' adaptation of the Tracy Letts play about a dysfunctional family, grossed a solid $7.86 million as it expanded to 900 locations, giving it a seventh place finish, behind "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" and ahead of "Saving Mr. Banks." 

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Spike Jonze's near-future love story "Her" ran in about 1,700 theaters after its limited run and placed in 11th. The awards season hopeful starring Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely guy who falls for a highly advanced operating system voiced by Scarlett Johansson generated $5.41 million in ticket sales.

The movie has earned a 93% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating widespread critical praise, though audience were somewhat less receptive, giving it a B-minus grade, according to CinemaScore.  

"Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," Paramount's Latino-targeted spin-off from the lucrative found-footage franchise, brought in $6.3 million in ticket sales and landed in ninth place after debuting last week at No. 2 with $18.3 million. "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" rounded out the top 10. 


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