erik lundegaard

America Celebrates MLK Weekend by Flocking to 'American Sniper' in Record Numbers

American Sniper

On Thursday I participated in a discussion on Nathaniel Roger’s Film Experience site about interesting stats on the Oscar nominations, and for me it was all about box office. Its lack. The highest grossing best picture nominee, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” was only the 53rd highest-grossing movie of the year, and I didn’t see that changing. Someone else immediately piped up: “‘American Sniper’ could easily gross over $100 million.”

My response:

The last Clint Eastwood movie to gross more than $100 million was “Gran Torino,” which he starred in. Before that, it was “Million Dollar Baby,” which he co-starred in. None of the others since 2004 have broken $50 million.

Iraq War movies don’t do well at the box office, either.

“American Sniper” could be different. But I doubt it.

When I’m wrong, I’m wrong.  

Expanding from four theaters to 3,555, Eastwood’s movie not only set a January box office record with a $90 million haul, it will easily become the highest-grossing movie of his career. Right now that’s “Gran Torino,” which grossed $148 million in 2008. “Sniper” might even surpass Eastwood’s biggest adjusted-for-inflation movie: “Every Which Way But Loose,” at $294 million.

More, it’s the biggest weekend of any winter movie, surpassing Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” which grossed $83 million in 2004.

“Sniper” obviously shares with “Passion” a conservative pedigree that brought out non-traditional moviegoers and stunned folks like me. I’m curious how Warner Bros. did it. Gibson relied on very public battles with folks, notably Frank Rich, before the movie opened, but I don’t think I’ve heard a peep from Eastwood. Was Chris Kyle’s book a best-seller? Or were folks just ready for an unapologetic movie about the war in Iraq and the greatest country on earth?

Here’s a triumphant John Nolte on the conservative Breitbart site:

The early estimates for director Clint Eastwood’s pro-War On Terror masterpiece “American Sniper” hovered around $40 million. Obviously our provincial box office gurus under-estimated the American people’s desire to see their warriors, wars, and country properly honored and honestly portrayed. In its wide-release debut, the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle is estimated to hit $75 million.

He adds: 

God, family and country are box office bonanzas.

Race-hoaxes are box office embarrassments.

Gee, who would have ever guess that?

“Race hoaxes,” by the way, are Nolte’s words for “Selma,” the movie about MLK and the Voting Rights Act, which was dismissed by the Oscars on Thursday and now by moviegoers this weekend. It expanded to 2,235 theater but managed only $8.3 million and fifth place. On MLK weekend, Americans would rather see (12 times over) a movie about a man of war rather than a man of peace. Plus ca change.

They’d also rather see a silly comedy (Kevin Hart’s “The Wedding Ringer,” $21 million), a good British kids movie (“Paddington,” $19 million), and the second weekend of a Liam Neeson shoot-em-up (“Taken 3,” $14 million).

What didn’t they want to see? Michael Mann’s “Blackhat,” starring Chris Hemsworth, which grossed only $4 million in 2,567 theaters. Its themes of computer terrorism and global hacking are perhaps too close to the headlines, and what people fear, to provide the proper escapist fantasy.

Not “Sniper.” That’s the perfect escapist fantasy for a country that can’t get enough of it. My review here.

Enjoy MLK weekend. 

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Posted at 10:05 AM on Sun. Jan 18, 2015 in category Movies - Box Office  

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