Lone Survivor earned $37.9 million, good for the second-biggest January opening ever, nearly double the $20 million it was expected to make.
The film, an adaptation of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell's bestselling 2009 memoir, cost $40 million to make and is on pace to top $100 million domestically.
While movies featuring the Iraq and Afghanistan wars don't always find a foothold with audiences, a marketing campaign timed to the postseasons of college and professional football, along with a long lead-time from the film's debut at the Los Angeles AFI Fest in November, helped Lone Survivor rise above.
By comparison, The Hurt Locker (2008) grossed just $17 million while Act of Valor grabbed $70 million in 2012.
"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," said director Peter Berg. "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."