American Sniper is crossing $300M today, a benchmark it clearly was headed toward weeks ago given its early momentum. Currently, American Sniper ranks as Warner Bros’ fifth-highest-grossing film in domestic box office ever. It sits behind only The Dark Knight ($533.3M), The Dark Knight Rises ($448.1M), Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($381M) and Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone ($317M). Warner produced Sniper with Village Roadshow.
American Sniper is the seventh Warners release to cross $300M domestically, and one of only 50 films to ever pass the milestone.
In its eighth frame, even with Fifty Shades Of Grey drawing a lot of money out of the B.O. marketplace, American Sniper held strongly, with only a 29% dip from last week. It had a three-day take of $16.4M, putting the stateside cume through Sunday at $304.1M. Over the Presidents Day holiday, it is expected to gross $19M for four days.
“This is an extraordinary accomplishment for a film,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros’ domestic distribution EVP. “When it becomes the fifth-highest-grossing Warner Bros. film off all-time and it is one of 50 films in cinema history to cross that benchmark and we’re still going – that tells you everything.”
Rival distribs said the drama based on soldier Chris Kyle’s war memoir played like a Marvel movie despite debuting in the post-holiday middle of winter, when moviegoers usually don’t come out in big numbers. That said, previous January megahits include the two biggest films of all time, Avatar and Titanic. With 2015’s domestic B.O. already 11% ahead of last year’s with $1.45B, insiders credit American Sniper for jump-starting the year.
The Clint Eastwood-directed film was amazing everyone from the moment it opened to big numbers on Christmas Day in four New York and Los Angeles theaters. It earned an A+ Cinemascore and broke records for biggest per-theater average.
Warner Bros. handled the release similar to its approach on Eastwood’s previous highest-grossing film, Gran Torino in 2009 (opening wide B.O.: $29.5M, final domestic $148.1M). The studio took American Sniper wide during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, to capitalize on its awards potential.
The film’s out-of-the-gate success blindsided everyone, including the studio, when it earned $89.3M in its FSS and $107.2M for the four-day holiday. That made it the best opening in the careers of Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper. It also posted the best bow for a MLK weekend release, second-best three-day for an R-rated film, and the biggest debut of any film opening before March.
By the end of its fifth week of release, American Sniper became the top-grossing war movie of all time, beating the $216.5M racked up by Steven Spielberg‘s Saving Private Ryan. Last week, Sniper bypassed Matrix Reloaded as the second-highest-grossing R-rated film ever behind 2004’s Passion Of The Christ ($370.8M).
Why did this film resonate? The story by Navy SEAL vet Kyle struck a chord in Middle America, in a big way. Warner Bros. learned that infrequent moviegoers — folks who see one film a year or less — were coming out en masse to see this movie.
Explaining how American Sniper hit a nerve with moviegoers, Goldstein said, “With troubling political and despicable events in the world, when you see the story of Chris Kyle, he is a hero that audiences latched on to.”
American Sniper may have benefited to some extent on an Oscar campaign that yielded six nominations, including best picture, best actor for Cooper and Jason Hall’s adapted screenplay.
But quintessential to American Sniper‘s success, Warner Bros. implemented a textured, layered marketing campaign for Sniper.
In a time when a low-budget political comedy, The Interview, created an international furor, Warner Bros. felt they had a film that cut through the politics of war. Many of the trailers and TV spots emphasized the emotional tones of Kyle’s story, while others focused on the intense scene featuring Kyle taking a slow aim at an Iraqi woman and child.
Other 60-second TV spots featured soundbites from Kyle’s widow Taya Kyle, the actress who played her (Sienna Miller) and Hall. The studio also tapped the Glover Park Group, a Washington, D.C.-based marketing and PR firm with deep experience in government affairs, to build the military press program and screenings.
Abroad, 40% of American Sniper‘s international markets have launched, The film’s overseas B.O. is $85.7 million, with many major territories launching next week including France, Spain, Japan, Brazil and Mexico. Global B.O. is $389.8M.
“This film hit the culture in such a phenomenal way in all geographic, political, gender and age segments,” said Goldstein. “Given the wave of patriotism in the midst of global events, American Sniper hit the zeitgeist at the right time.”