MIB 3, Hatfields and McCoys

History Channel, Sony Pictures

And Men in Black 3 thought The Avengers was tough competition...

The opening night of the Kevin Costner-Bill Paxton TV miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys, was a record-setting hit.

And a hypothetical No. 1 movie.

Consider the math: History says Monday night's installment of Hatfields & McCoys averaged 13.9 million viewers, the biggest-ever audience for a non-sports show on cable.

If the project was a theatrical release, and if every single member of its audience bought a ticket, at the estimated going rate of $7.92 a pop, then the Western would've grossed an impossible $110 million in a single day, and, yes, bested MiB3, which won the Memorial Day weekend crown with a Friday-Sunday take of $54.5 million.

The previous weekend, by comparison, the most-watched movie on cable, a Saturday morning outing of Race to Witch Mountain on Disney, would not have had nearly enough viewers to qualify for hypothetical No. 1 movie status over then-champ The Avengers.  

Of course, there are reasons hypothetical No. 1 movies aren't really No. 1 movies, like The Avengers and MiB3.

Economic theory, for one, tells us every single member of a TV audience won't show up at a theater during an opening weekend or an opening night ready to fork over cash for something they are happy to watch for free, or close to free.

Then there's a matter specific to Hatfields & McCoys: It's a Western, a genre that's got a knack for rounding up big audiences, in general, and men, specifically—on cable. The movies are another story, a mostly sad one in recent decades. Just ask Cowboys & Aliens.

"Westerns are a tough sell," Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock says, before adding, "But Kevin Costner in a Western—I wouldn't count him out."

Then again, it's been a long time since the Dances With Wolves Oscar-winner has starred in a No. 1 movie of any genre. 

Or has it…?

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