Conservatives fuel box-office ride for
Empty seats were hard to come by atClint Eastwood’s American Sniper over the New Year weekend, where the R-rated Iraq War drama — all words seldom attached to “blockbuster” — rolled to the kind of runaway success that makes Hollywood sit up and take notice.
The film, which blew away box-office expectations with a superherosized $107 million over the four-day weekend, was in many ways an oldfashioned kind of Hollywood hit: It was built on star-power (Bradley Cooper and the 84-year-old Eastwood), Oscar buzz (six nominations including best picture) and a largely adult audience (63 percent over 25 years old).
Certainly, the huge wide-release openingwouldn’thave been possible without the strong support of a seldom-catered-to demographic: conservatives. Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros, called conservatives’ embrace of the film “huge”, noting it’s an audience difficult to court.
“The audience watched this movie not as a war movie but as a movie about patriotism, a movie about a hero, a movie about family, a movie about serving our country,” says Fellman. “And it struck a chord right across the board.”
Most Hollywood heartland hits (like the recent Unbroken, or The Last Temptation of the Christ) have capitalized on faith-based audiences. But American Sniper, about Navy SEAL marksman Chris Kyle, is the kind of heroic war film Hollywood has largely resisted in depicting the often unpopular and less successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru. credited the film’s triumph to a “perfect storm” of factors, including the savvy marketing of Warner Bros, which stoked interest in the film by holding it in very limited release for two weeks.
“It was always expected to have a large conservative base come out for this film, as most military dramas do,” says Pandya. “But you can’t sell a movie to only a conservative audience and reach $107 million in a four-day weekend. You’re reaching everybody with those kind of numbers.”
Eastwood says American Sniper is an apolitical character study about Kyle, whowith 160 confirmed kills, is considered the most lethal sniper in US military history. He was tragically killed at a shooting range in 2013 by a veteran he was helping adjust to life at home.
But the celebration of an elite killer who called his Iraqi foes “savages” has spawneda growing storm of criticism. Seth Rogen compared the movie to Nazi propaganda before adding that he liked it on Twitter. Documentarian Michael Moore sparked more uproar when he tweeted unrelatedly about snipers not being heroes, before adding that he thought Eastwood confused Iraq for Vietnam.
In the New Republic, Dennis Jett wrote that single-mindedly treating Kyle as a patriot “allows Americans to ignore the consequences of invading a country thathadnoweaponsof mass destruction, had nothing to do with 9/11, and had no meaningful ties to al-Qaida”.
Nevertheless, American Sniper hasbecomea bona-fide cultural phenomenon, and the film will arrive at the Feb 22 Academy Awards the farand-away box-office heavyweight among the best-picture nominees.
Few expect the rise of American Sniper topushit to Oscar victory. But with box-office receipts heading to well over $200 million in North America, the effect of American Sniper will likely be — as all things successful in Hollywood are — endlessly copied.