See more of the story

“The Revenant,” a bone-chilling tale of frontier vengeance starring Leonardo DiCaprio, exploded for $14.4 million in its nationwide box-office debut on Friday, knocking “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” out of the top spot for the first time since it opened and turning the weekend race into a nail-biter.

Both the R-rated survival saga directed by 2015 Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu and Disney’s blockbuster space epic are on pace to finish the three days with around $37 million.

“The Force Awakens,” which became the all-time top-grossing film at the U.S. box office earlier this week, took in $10.7 million on Friday and will have to rally to claim its fourth straight weekend win with the tale of real-life fur trapper Hugh Glass headed for a three-day haul that will be at least $15 million over analysts’ projections.

Also Read: Steven Spielberg Eyes 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' Villain for 'Ready Player One'

The PG-13-rated “Star Wars” may rate an edge because it should do more family business on Saturday and Sunday. But regardless of who finishes the weekend on top, it’s a momentum building win for “The Revenant,” which received a “B+” CinemaScore from first-night audiences. The Oscar hopeful this week added nominations from the American Society of Cinematographers and Producers Guild to its four from the Golden Globes, and DiCaprio was nominated by the Screen Actors Guild.

It’s also good news for Arnon Milchan‘s New Regency, Brett Ratner‘s RatPac, China’s Alpha Pictures and Megan Ellison‘s Annapurna Pictures who financed the film’s $135 million shoot.

Distributor Twentieth Century Fox muscled “The Revenant” into 3,375 theaters, impressive given the crowded post-holiday marketplace, after it averaged roughly $115,000 in four New York and L.A. theaters during a two-week Oscar qualifying run that began on Christmas Day. Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter co-star. It got off to a strong star with $2.3 million in Thursday night previews.

Also Read: 'The Revenant' Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu Says Production 'Almost Killed Me'

The weekend’s other wide opener, Gramercy’s “The Forest,” is heading for a $12 million debut after taking in nearly $5 million at 2,451 theaters on Friday. Natalie Dormer from TV’s “Game of Thrones” stars in the horror-thriller about a woman investigating her twin sister’s disappearance in Japan’s Aokigahara Forest. It received a “C” CinemaScore from typically tough-grading fans of the genre.