When it comes to evaluating the financial performance of top movies, it isn’t about what a film grosses at the box office. The true tale is told when production budgets, P&A, talent participations and other costs collide with box office grosses, and ancillary revenues from VOD to DVD and TV. To get close to that mysterious end of the equation, Deadline is repeating our Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament, using data culled by seasoned and trusted sources. We’re counting down from No. 20 and will present the data en masse Monday.
THE FILM: If you would have posited that American Sniper would turn into Hollywood’s most profitable film of 2014, most would have said you were crazy. The film went through unimaginable adversity: its subject Chris Kyle was murdered right after screenwriter Jason Hall turned in his first draft; widow Taya Kyle then personally guiding Hall in a rewrite to make sure her husband’s legacy would be protected; and Steven Spielberg developing to direct, and then dropping out over money. The film ended up in the capable hands of Clint Eastwood, whose decision to strip down the story to its core, devoid of politics and polemic messages, and focusing on the plight of our soldiers, struck a chord with America and became a surprise zeitgeist film. Let’s see how it stacked up financially.
THE BOX SCORE: Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:
THE BOTTOM LINE: Maybe it opened too late to win Best Picture, but the film, fueled by a brilliant marketing campaign, landed at a slack period for the box office in January and it proceeded to dominate the early part of the year. American Sniper became the top opening film ever for January, with a domestic opening frame of $89 million after a slight December Oscar-qualifying run. It became the top domestic winter opening, ever; it was the biggest MLK Weekend opener, and has become the second-highest R-rated domestic earner with close to $340 million, behind The Passion of The Christ; and it was the second-highest domestic opening of an R rated film ever, after The Matrix Reloaded. It also passed Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan to become the biggest domestic grossing war film. All this, at a $58.8M budget, and it is still playing strongly overseas where it is showing surprising strength given the sensitive nature of the subject matter. It is set to hit $210M international per our sources, for a total gross of $550M worldwide. Now, the estate of Kyle had a strong gross position, as did Cooper and Eastwood. That takes an estimated $65M off the profit line, but still, the total net for Warner Bros is $243M for a Cash on Cash Return of 1.74. Just as important, this film will be remembered, forever.