A few weeks back, the Shut Up Kids podcast had John Ary on to discuss our Top 3 and Worst 3 films of 2014. Among the mentioned (by John, actually) was Clint Eastwood’s Jersey Boys abomination. The conversation then turned to how we dislike much of Eastwood’s body of work lately and how unenthusiastic I was to see American Sniper. Well, I still don’t really want to see it but millions and millions of people did, blowing the box office open this past weekend with over $105 million dollars. “How the hell did this happen,” I asked myself. There was literally no way this film should have done anywhere close to that number and here’s a few reasons why.
It wasn’t even supposed to come out yet.
The funniest thing about American Sniper’s success is that it wasn’t intended to come out until next Christmas. That’s right. Clint usually puts out one film a year and 2014’s was the aforementioned Jersey Boys. However, executives at Warner Brothers saw a rough cut of Sniper over this past summer and opted to push it forward by a year.
This was actually a topic on the last Supernaughts debate show and even had one co-host (whose name I won’t mention, cough, RJD, cough) mention that with films like Blackhat and American Sniper coming out, what do people plan to Netflix over the weekend? It was a fair question and when I heard the podcast I laughed and thought he was dead on. January tends to be where movies are released to die out fast so they can be on DVDs as soon as possible. But a funny thing happened on the way to the morgue for American Sniper, it made the most money for a January opening. Ever. Yes, adjusting for inflation, it beat out James Cameron’s Avatar which made $74.4 million in its opening.
IMAX and Rated R don’t really mix.
The big IMAX movies are the eye-candy, PG-13 ones (superheroes, explosions, kid-friendly stuff, etc.). The last Rated R movie to do really great IMAX numbers in its release was Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Well, American Sniper beat that out too, making over $11.5 million in IMAX sales this past weekend.
This wasn’t a sequel.
Nor was this a comedy or straight up action film or a film about Jesus Christ. This was a biopic. And a Rated R biopic has no reason to make so much money. But from Friday to Sunday, American Sniper made $89.5 million dollars, beating out Rated R openings such as The Hangover Part II and The Passion of the Christ. The only one it trails is The Matrix: Reloaded, which was one of the most highly anticipated sequels of all time.
Eastwood doesn’t make bank.
His highest grossing movie of all time is Gran Torino. All in, it made $149 million dollars. American Sniper should beat that by next weekend.
That’s some crazy stuff for a movie to overcome. So how exactly did American Sniper do it?
Cyber-thrillers are hard to pull off.
Nobody wants to stare at someone staring at a computer screen, even if that person is Thor himself. Michael Mann’s latest film, Blackhat, cost over $70 million dollars to make and made a whopping $4 million dollars. Speculation is that Blackhat execs thought this weekend was a good one (the following weekend after Taken 3 would come out) but didn’t expect the power of American Sniper. That could be true but I personally think that cyber-thrillers aren’t big sells anyway. Even with the worldwide talk over the recent Sony hackings, people are connected to computers all of the time – why watch a movie about a guy sitting in front of a computer? Boring! But a patriotic sniper or a badass Liam Neeson finding people taken from him? Hell yes!
Oscar nominations still mean something to some people.
Most people I know (and a lot of people who contribute to this site) hate the Oscars. But it seems that movies that get nominations tend to get a lot of interest from the general public. According to Box Office Mojo (where most of my lovely numbers and percentages for this article are coming from), post-nominated-movies saw a bump in sales anywhere from 18% – 32%. Most moviegoers want to see the Oscar nominated films.
Don’t mess with Texas.
Or any conservative, heartland state in the United States. Moviegoers from Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and New Mexico (to name a few) came out in droves this past weekend to see American Sniper.
I still have little interest in seeing this film but it looks like I am in the minority. The film overcame some crazy odds and will certainly result in numerous similar films to go into production. Will those fair as well? I doubt it. But after this past weekend, seeing any film going crazy at the box office won’t surprise me ever again.
These are just my thoughts on why American Sniper did what it did. Have more to add to the conversation or something to dispute? Please comment below!