'American Sniper' breaks January box office records -- and breeds controversy

Why 'American Sniper' is a box office hit
Why 'American Sniper' is a box office hit

It was a great week for "American Sniper."

The Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper film not only picked up a bevy of Oscar nominations on Thursday, but it also destroyed several box office records with an estimated $105 million in ticket sales over the holiday weekend.

That early total gives "American Sniper" the largest-ever opening in January.

"Sniper" is also the first film with an Iraq war theme that has become a big hit at the box office.

The film's true-life story of military sharpshooter Chris Kyle has come with its fair share of controversy, however.

Some, like liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, have called into question whether Kyle was really a hero.

"My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards," Moore tweeted on Sunday. "Snipers aren't heroes. And invaders [are] worse."

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a CNN analyst, was highly disapproving of Moore's tweets, saying on Twitter that the "Fahrenheit 9/11" filmmaker should spend a few weeks with ISIS and Boko Haram in order to appreciate the film.

"I am proud of our defenders," Gingrich added.

In a recent column, Iraq war veteran and activist Paul Rieckhoff wrote, "Most of America is tired of hearing about Iraq. But now, they're at least open to being entertained by it."

Rieckhoff said he is okay with that because "films like 'American Sniper' may bring civilians closer to us than anything else."

"It's tearing open a shameful national boil of a discussion that's been bubbling below our collective skin for far too long," he wrote. "And with that, it performs an exceptionally important public service in a way only film can."

The film opened like a summer blockbuster and did so for several reasons, according to Rentrak box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. One was strong word-of-mouth due to the film's limited release in December.

"By limiting the availability of 'Sniper' for the first three weekends, [the film's studio, Warner Bros.] built up a demand that was fully manifested by this massive outpouring," Dergarabedian said. (Warner Bros. is owned by Time Warner, which also owns this website.)

american sniper

The last time a movie was this big in January was in 2010: "Avatar" brought in $68.5 million in its third weekend.

"American Sniper" is also a record breaker for both star Bradley Cooper and director Clint Eastwood.

It is the largest box office debut for an Eastwood-directed film, easily lapping his "Gran Torino," which opened to sales of $29.4 million in 2009.

As for Cooper, "Sniper" is his biggest live action opening passing 2011's "The Hangover Part II."

Yet, the craziest point of all may be that "Sniper" almost beat the biggest opening of Cooper's career, "Guardians of the Galaxy," which debuted to $94.3 million last August and was one of the biggest films of 2014.

The record opening for "Sniper" also raises the box office average for the Best Picture nominees. This year's slate had fared better with industry critics than at the box office.


CNNMoney Sponsors