Box office top 20: ‘American Sniper’ hits $107 million

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘American Sniper': The Strategy Behind Warner Bros.’ $107M Opening.

Like Kathryn Bigelow’s multiple Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper tells the story of an American military man who distinguished himself in Iraq but found the going more trying back in the US.A billboard for the controversial US blockbuster American Sniper has been vandalised with the word ‘murder’ sprayed across it, as the debate over whether the film pays tribute to a heroic veteran or glorifies war continues to rage.

“I was against going into the war in Iraq since I figured we would probably trip over ourselves in some way,” Clint Eastwood said back in December after screening American Sniper for Academy members at the Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills.Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman can’t count the number of times he has called Clint Eastwood over the years to relay opening-weekend box office. And as with Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor, this action drama draws upon an autobiography written by a Navy SEAL who took part in a war where children and adults alike were looked upon as likely enemy combatants.

American Sniper, staring six-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper as navy SEAL Chris Kyle, a sniper with 164 confirmed “kills”, has clocked up $99.5 million in box offices across the world since its global release on Friday The film has also been deemed a critical success, with reviews noting that despite its simplistic portrayal of Middle Eastern politics Cooper’s performance as a soldier traumatised – and still battling – his demons elevated the film above the usual American military hagiography. But in the man officially credited as the most lethal sharpshooter in US military history, this film possesses a protagonist with a thought-provoking story that, even when it looks to closely focus on him, has much to say about the effects of war on individuals, their families and their country. It was Saturday morning, Jan. 17, and Fellman informed the 84-year-old filmmaker, who lives in Carmel, Calif., and doesn’t use email, that Sniper looked to cross $80 million over the four-day weekend. A Texas ranch hand and sometime bronco rodeo rider who enlisted after the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US Embassy in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) put his ace marksmanship to lethal use on four tours of duty in Iraq.

Fellman wasn’t planning on calling Eastwood again until Monday — but by late Saturday, it became clear that the $60 million-budgeted Sniper was surging to a historic $107.2 million North American launch. American Sniper broke the previous record set by Cloverfield in 2008 for its performance on Friday, and then beat James Cameron’s 2010 epic Avatar (which made $68.5million) for the most taken over the entire weekend. Between his stints there, the increasingly battle-scarred and psychologically affected war veteran spent time back home with his family — but, as his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) increasingly felt, it often seemed like he mentally remained thousands of miles away.

Sean Hannity, who’s devoted several segments to the film, said, “I would urge everybody to see it.” Conservative web site Breitbart.com carried an enthusiastic review under the flag-waving headline, “A Patriotic, Pro-War on Terror Masterpiece.” Britain’s left-leaning The Guardian weighed with writer Lindy West asking whether Eastwood, “intentionally or not, makes a hero out of Kyle — who, bare minimum, was a racist who took pleasure in dehumanizing and killing brown people.” And always eager to enlist in the latest culture war, Sarah Palin took a few shots at Hollywood leftists before saying, “May the epic American Sniper bring nothing but blessing to [Kyle’s window] Taya and the children of this true American hero. Eastwood’s film is up for an Oscar for Best Picture, pitting it against The Imitation Game, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, The Theory of Everything and Whiplash. Impressively buffed up and speaking with a Texas twang, Cooper plays his character as an unmitigated patriot even while Eastwood intriguingly fashions his film to reveal that Kyle’s straightforward view of what’s happening in the world is at odds with reality. Its record-breaking opening weekend has been widely attributed to the strong support of America’s conservative right and their appreciation of the film’s patriotic themes.

Thank you Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood for respecting the United States military.” Nearly overnight, Sniper has not only become the top-grossing movie among the eight best picture nominees — with $107.3 million and counting — but it’s also triggered this awards season’s most vitriolic debate, eclipsing even the arguments that have been raging over over the portrayal of President Johnson in Selma. Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., said their embrace of the film had been “huge”. “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,” he told the Associated Press. “And it struck a chord right across the board.” Writing in the New Republic, American diplomat Dennis Jett wrote that single-mindedly treating Kyle as a patriot “allows Americans to ignore the consequences of invading a country that had no weapons of mass destruction, had nothing to do with 9/11, and had no meaningful ties to al-Qaeda.” American director and activist Michael Moore claimed snipers are “cowards”, while Seth Rogan, the director of The Interview, said the film reminded him of a faux Nazi propaganda film featured by Quentin Tarentino in his film Inglorious Basterds. Not only has the adaptation of the late Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle’s memoir energized Middle America, it also is resonating with more upscale, liberal audiences after landing six Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor for Bradley Cooper. Sarah Palin has also weighed into the debate, retaliating on her Facebook page with: “Hollywood leftists: while caressing shiny plastic trophies you exchange among one another while spitting on the graves of freedom fighters who allow you to do what you do, just realize the rest of America knows you’re not fit to shine Chris Kyle’s combat boots.”

Eastwood’s movie is actually something of a Rorschach test: His just-the-facts-ma’am approach to Kyle’s story allows viewers to read whatever politics they like into Sniper. But Eastwood’s own politics — his bewildering talk-to-the-chair performance at the 2012 Republican Convention notwithstanding — aren’t so easily categorized.

The right still sees him as the magnum-wielding Dirty (“Make my day”) Harry even though, in movies like 1992’s Unforgiven — for which he won his first directing Oscar — he’s re-examined the cost of violence (“It’s a hell of a thing, ain’t it, killing a man”). Even the most cynical pundits credit Warners with orchestrating a shrewd marketing campaign that played on patriotism and heroism without alienating moviegoers less prone to flag-waving. Sniper may suddenly be flush with box-office dollars — which should help the ratings of the Oscar broadcast as more viewers with a rooting interest in the blockbuster tune in — but it doesn’t guarantee it a win.

Eastwood, 84, though highly regarded, hasn’t won at Oscar since he took home the directing and best picture trophies for Million Dollar Baby a decade ago, and this year, he wasn’t even nominated for best director. After seeming to attack the film in a Jan. 25 tweet in which he proclaimed “snipers are cowards,” Michael Moore took to Facebook to clarify his thoughts about Sniper, saying, “Awesome performance by Bradley Cooper. He and others likewise praise Warners for opening Sniper in select cities over Christmas, the traditional release for sophisticated awards fare, before expanding nationwide the day after Oscar noms were announced. One of the best of the year.” However, the intense focus on Sniper also does create challenges for its rivals as they look to build momentum before Academy voting begins on Feb. 6.

All the while, Warners aggressively courted members of the military and veterans groups, hiring Glover Park Group, a leading Washington-based consulting firm. Most modern war films, from Green Zone to Zero Dark Thirty, have ignited potentially damaging debate about U.S. policies before their openings, but not Sniper (only with its phenomenal launch has such debate begun). “This is the first contemporary mainstream war film that really tells a personal story about soldiers. Though impossible to prove, many suspected that controversy made the film too hot to handle, and so the Academy handed its top prize to the much more viewer-friendly Argo. Appearing Jan. 16 on Real Time with Bill Maher, Zero director Kathryn Bigelow was asked her opinion of Sniper, but refused to be drawn into the discussion, saying she hadn’t seen the movie.

With the wounds from Vietnam War still a raw, Coming Home, the drama about returning vets starring Jane Fonda, was viewed as the anti-war choice, while Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, about a trio of Pennsylvania steel-workers’ tour in Vietnam, was seen as the more patriotic alternative — that movie ended with the survivors singing “God, Bless America.” Both films attracted demonstrators outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the 51st Academy Awards: A group called Vietnam Veterans Against the War protested The Deer Hunter, and its invented Russian Roulette sequence for “misinterpretation of reality.” In the end, though, while Coming Home won best screenplay and best actress and actor for Fonda and Jon Voight, Deer Hunter prevailed, winning five Oscars, including director and picture. The support was immediate, sparking glowing press within the military community. “About 2.8 million men and women have served in the post-9/11 wars, yet there is still a clear military-civilian divide in this country,” says Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “But director Clint Eastwood — an Army veteran himself who used the GI Bill to go to college — got it right.” The film was screened at 20 military bases, and on Dec. 19, Cooper and co-star Sienna Miller sat for a Q&A at the Fort Hamilton Army Base Theater in Brooklyn, followed by another Jan. 14 at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. “If, because of this movie, people are talking about veterans and what they’ve sacrificed, that’s a victory,” says Greg Silverman, Warners president of creative development and worldwide production, who immigrated from South Africa as a child and says he has an affinity for those serving in the U.S. military. Many veterans live in the Southeast, Midwest and South, where Sniper did huge business, from the smallest towns — unusual for an R-rated film — to bigger cities. There are people going to see Sniper who haven’t been to the movies in two or three years.” Cooper, star of The Hangover films, is another draw for young people. Many are estimating Sniper will gross $250 million or more domestically and another $125 million overseas, where the American story faces inherent challenges.

In addition to possibly boosting ratings for the Feb. 22 Oscar telecast (Sniper already has grossed more than the other best picture nominees), the film is poised to ride the controversy. “With the success of the movie and with such an emotional subject matter, everyone will have an opinion,” says Kroll. “This is based on a man’s life; we are not making a political statement.”

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