Directed by David O. Russell, and starring Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner, American Hustle opened with a better than expected $19.1 million after expanding to 2,507 North American locations, according to studio estimates found at Box Office Mojo. Some pundits had been expecting a debut in the low-to-mid teens.
For comparison's sake: Three years ago, David O. Russell's The Fighter, which also featured American Hustle's Christian Bale and Amy Adams, expanded to 2,503 locations, grossing a considerably more modest $12.56 million. Comparisons to last year's Silver Linings Playbook — also directed by Russell, and featuring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence — are impossible to make, as that film expanded to 2,523 locations only on its tenth weekend out and right around the time of the Academy Award nominations.
Considering that American Hustle will undoubtedly receive a number of Academy Award nominations — along with Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, it's one of the three favorites for the Best Picture Oscar — David O. Russell's latest effort will surely remain a solid box office performer well into 2014. There's little doubt that the $40 million-budgeted American Hustle (not including marketing and distribution expenses) will surpass the $100 million mark in the United States and Canada; in fact, depending on how it fares at the Oscars, the $150 million mark is a possibility. If it reaches that high, David O. Russell's New York Film Critics' winner will become his most successful film to date.
David O. Russell movies
David O. Russell's feature-film career has proceeded in fits and starts. In the mid-'90s, Russell came out with a couple of generally well-received independently made, low-budget quirky comedies, Spanking the Monkey (1994) and Flirting with Disaster (1996). These would be followed later in the decade by the $75 million-budgeted post-Persian Gulf War satire Three Kings (1999), starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube, which ultimately earned a — relative to its cost — disappointing $107.7 million worldwide as per (possibly incomplete) figures found at Box Office Mojo.
Not helping matters were stories of David O. Russell coming to blows with George Clooney during the making of Three Kings. In an interview for Playboy in 2000, Clooney described working on the film as "truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life."
Five years later, David O. Russell was back with another independently made, (relatively) low-budget quirky comedy: I Heart Huckabees, starring Jason Schwartzman. Made for $20 million, despite its mostly name cast — Dustin Hoffman, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Naomi Watts, Lily Tomlin, Mark Wahlberg — I Heart Huckabees turned out to be a total box office bomb, collecting a piteous $12.78 million in North America, in addition to a dismal $7.28 million elsewhere. Once again, not helping matters were two leaked videos showing David O. Russell exploding on the set, screaming obscenities at an irate Lily Tomlin in front of cast and crew.
David O. Russell comeback: 'The Fighter,' 'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'American Hustle'
Six years would pass before the next David O. Russell release: the Mark Wahlberg-co-produced boxing drama The Fighter (2010). Starring Wahlberg, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, and The Dark Knight's Christian Bale, The Fighter went on to gross a respectable $93.61 million in North America, in addition to a way less impressive $35.57 million internationally. But since it was made for a reported $25 million (as always, not including marketing and distribution expenses), The Fighter was a definitely perceived as a box office hit — and a prestigious one at that, having garnered Oscar wins for both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, in addition to five other nominations, including those for Amy Adams, director Russell, and for the film itself.
In 2012, David O. Russell had his biggest box office hit to date: Silver Linings Playbook. Released by the Oscar-savvy The Weinstein Company, the comedy-drama starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro (who also has a minor role in American Hustle), and Jacki Weaver opened slowly. It looked like the film was going to become a domestic box office disappointment, but thanks to strong awards season buzz, Silver Linings Playbook continued playing well into early 2013, ultimately cuming at $132.09 million in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to an impressive $104.31 million internationally, performing particularly well in Australia, the United Kingdom, Brazil, France, Spain, and Italy.
On the prestige front, Silver Linings Playbook became the first movie since Warren Beatty's Reds to receive Academy Award nominations in all four acting categories. The film ended up with one Oscar out of its eight nominations (including Best Picture, and a Best Director nod for David O. Russell): Best Actress Jennifer Lawrence, who beat the likes of stage and/or screen veterans Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), and Naomi Watts (The Impossible).
Next movie: 'Nailed'
David O. Russell's next movie is the romantic comedy Nailed, which currently has no scheduled opening date. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Biel, Kirstie Alley, James Marsden, and Catherine Keener, Nailed follows a small-town waitress who, her behavior unpredictable after a nail accidentally gets stuck in her head, ends up in Washington, D.C., where she becomes involved with a naive young senator.
Co-written by David O. Russell, Matthew Silverstein, Kristin Gore, and Dave Jeser, Nailed also features Paul Reubens, James Brolin, David Ramsey, Olivia Crocicchia, and Kurt Fuller.
Amy Adams in David O. Russell's American Hustle image: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures.