LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Clint Eastwood's American Sniper blasted into first place with a massive US$107 million (S$133.7 million) on its debut weekend at the North American box office, a record for a January opening, industry figures showed on Tuesday.
Its takings, for the four-day Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend, exceeded the projections of $105.3 million.
The war drama, starring Bradley Cooper as real-life Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has racked up six Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor for Cooper.
But the film - on its first weekend in wide release - also triggered a heated online debate about patriotism.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore claims it hero-worships Kyle, who shot his way to a record 160 confirmed kills in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Snipers are not heroes, he contends. "My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren't heroes. And invaders r worse," he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
But he later praised the Clint Eastwood-directed film itself, writing on Facebook: "Awesome performance from Bradley Cooper. One of the best of the year. Great editing. Costumes, hair, makeup superb!"
Comedian Seth Rogen wrote on Twitter that the film reminded him of Nation's Pride, a fake Nazi propaganda film featured in the film, Inglourious Basterds.
He was attacked for his comment by others including country star Craig Morgan who wrote on Facebook that Rogen was insensitive to people like Kyle who who serve in the United States military.
Sarah Palin joined in to say leftists were "not fit to shine Chris Kyle's combat boots." "God bless our troops, especially our snipers," the former Alaska governor and one-time vice-presidential nominee, a darling of the rightwing Tea Party movement, wrote on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Blackhat, the cybercrime thriller directed by Michael Mann and starring Chris Hemsworth, became the first movie flop of the year by taking in just US$4.4 million in ticket sales.
It finished 11th over the four-day weekend and its performance was one of the worst for a wide theatrical release, said Bloomberg News.
It costs US$70 million to make, according to researcher Box Office Mojo, and was forecast to reap US$11.5 million in ticket sales by Boxoffice.com, another researcher.
The film is Mann's lowest opening weekend since Manhunter in 1986. Its ticket sales make it the 10th-worst for a film released in more than 2,500 theatres, according to Box Office Mojo.
Hemsworth stars as a furloughed convict hired to help catch a hacker to prevent a global cyber-attack.
At No.2 was Paddington, a new big-screen adaptation of the family classic about a bear lost in the big city. The kids comedy, starring British actor Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame opposite the marmalade-loving bear, took in US$25.5 million in its US bow.
Action comedy The Wedding Ringer opened in third place with US$24 million, according to box office tracker Exhibitor Relations. The critically panned flick stars Kevin Hart as a best-man-for-hire for a socially awkward groom.