Hands up, Jack Ryan. Kevin Hart's got you cornered.
Hart's police comedy Ride Along cruised to a thundering win at theaters this weekend, trouncing the return of the Tom Clancy hero and providing an unexpected jolt to the box office in January, normally a turnstile wasteland.
Ride Along did $41.2 million, according to studio estimates from Rentrak. If estimates hold, the opening is the largest ever in January, eclipsing 2008's Cloverfield, which debuted to $40.1 million.
The debut towered over most analysts' projections of $27 million and establishes the comedian as a box-office force.
"Kevin Hart finally gets his non-standup box-office breakout," says Tim Briody of Boxofficeprophets.com, who calls the debut "outstanding."
Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo says that Hart's star was rising since 2012's comedy Think Like a Man and last year's standup film Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain.
But Subers says Hart also got a boost from Universal Pictures' savvy marketing campaign.
"The movie's real strength can be found in its tagline: 'Propose to this cop's sister? Rookie mistake,' " he says. "That line clearly explains what the movie is about, and suggests that there is something here for both men and women."
Critics were less smitten: only 16% gave it a thumbs-up, says Rotten Tomatoes. But 77% of moviegoers liked it, the site says.
The true military story Lone Survivor took second place with $23.2 million, a strong second week in national release that brings the film's overall gross to $74 million.
The animated comedy The Nut Job also scored a strong weekend, beating projections and earning a third-place debut with $20.6 million, good for third place.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, meanwhile, couldn't enlist many moviegoers. The Chris Pine thriller, an attempted reboot of the series, did $17.2 million, below its projected haul of $19 million.
"Any franchise potential has likely gone poof," Briody says. "Ouch. Nobody is going to be very pleased with this performance come Monday."
Disney's animated film Frozen rounded out the top five with $12 million.
Final figures are due Tuesday because of the Martin Luther King holiday.