Tsujihara, quoted on the conference’s live blog, said the film had been greenlit two years ago. It was directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Bradley Cooper in a sobering true story about a military sniper grappling with inner demons over his combat experiences. Despite the Oscar pedigree of both Eastwood and Cooper, however, it wasn’t initially set to make this year’s Oscar race. But after Tsujihara saw a screening of the film in September, he said he ordered its release accelerated.
The film debuted in four Los Angeles and New York theaters on Christmas Day, just in time for an Oscar qualifying run. During that time, it racked up six-figure per-screen averages of Eastwood’s Oscar-winning career. More importantly, when Oscar nominations were announced Jan. 15, American Sniper was up for six, including Best Picture and Best Actor.
A day later, the film went into wide release, jumping from four theaters to 3,555, and box office took off. Sniper now is the fifth-highest-grossing domestic release in Warner Bros. history and it’s still in theaters. Worldwide, the film has grossed $394 million, far eclipsing any previous Eastwood film.
The film’s success in January also points to another issue Tsujihara discussed: the breaking of Hollywood conventions regarding when films should be released. January and February long were fallow months at the box office, characterized mostly by holiday holdovers, Oscar-contending art films and the dumped dregs of each studio release list.
Then Sniper and last weekend’s Fifty Shades of Grey came along. That latter film from Universal debuted to a string of box-office records and already has $270 million in worldwide grosses.
But release timing can work against a film too, Tsujihara said.
Asked whether The Lego Movie, a surprise snub for the Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations, was penalized because of its early release, Tsujihara agreed.
“I have two kids also,” said Tsujihara He didn’t initially think the movie was an awards prospect, but it went on to strong reviews, some early-season awards and $468.7 million in worldwide gross, making it the year’s biggest animated release.
That all made it the early favorite for an Oscar nomination, but when the announcements came, it was one of the day’s biggest snubs. “I’m not exactly sure why it didn’t win.”
The whole process should be whether it’s a great movie, Tsujihara said, not when it’s released.
Tsujihara also talked about fallout from the unprecedented cyberattack on Sony in November that ransacked the company’s data and led to the release of embarrassing emails from top executives. Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal left her job two weeks ago as a result, saying she’d been “fired.”
Tsujihara expressed regret when asked if other studios should have done more to support Sony. The FBI says the studio was targeted by the North Korean government in retaliation for The Interview, which depicts North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un being killed.
“I think we could have and should have done more,” Tsujihara said. “When you see one of your competitors and colleagues down, [you] want to help them out.”
The attacks also prompted some second thoughts.
“It makes you question the security of your employees and what’s going on,” Tsujihara said.