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'Lone Survivor': Box Office Record Nearly Set by Wahlberg's Film

Image: 'Lone Survivor': Box Office Record Nearly Set by Wahlberg's Film Photo released by Universal Pictures shows Taylor Kitsch, left, as Michael Murphy and Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell.

By Clyde Hughes   |   Tuesday, 14 Jan 2014 11:29 AM

Mark Wahlberg's war film "Lone Survivor" has surpassed critics' expectations and nearly eclipsed the box office record for an opening weekend for January.

The Navy SEALs thriller made $38.5 million its opening weekend, the second highest opening for a release in January, following 2008's "Cloverfield," which took in $40.1 million, according to Variety. 

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"Lone Survivor" beat out Disney's award-winning "Frozen" for the top weekend spot. "Frozen" made $15 million in its seventh weekend of wide release and has cashed in $317.7 domestically overall so far.

"How did ('Lone Survivor') do so well, considering that pundits were guessing it would open somewhere between $16 and $27 million?" wrote Gary Susman of Rolling Stone. "It helped that it was based on a bestselling book (by Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, played in the film by Wahlberg), is about a true incident of wartime heroism, earned the best possible word-of-mouth (as measured by an A+ at CinemaScore), appealed to women as well as men, and didn't have much competition among new releases." 

The Los Angeles Times reported that it also helped that the movie had no political undercurrent, despite the potential for it to be very politically charged.

"What I've found at screenings is that people are reacting to the opportunity to experience what these men went through, to pay their respects," writer and director Peter Berg told the Los Angeles Times Monday. "It's a chance for audiences to express their patriotism in a way that doesn't feel political, and we don't have a lot of chances to do that." 

Movies about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have had a tough time reaching diverse audiences. The Los Angeles Times reported that while "The Hurt Locker" was critically acclaimed, winning the Oscar for Best Picture, it grossed only $17 million at the box office.

Another Navy SEALS-centric movie, "Act of Valor," drew in $70 million, but the Los Angeles Times reported that that film "was a fictionalized, episodic film that jumped to various missions around the world and did not focus as heavily on the Taliban or other harsh realities. It also largely avoided the death inherent to this story."

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