American Sniper –the movie about Chris Kyle, the real-life Navy SEAL who became the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history—has stirred controversy since its release. One side claims it’s propaganda and another side defends it as an homage to veterans all over the country. Some say the movie puts into scrutiny someone who kills for a living; while others say it puts into question America’s role in Iraq.
The backlash — from politicians, veterans, and celebrities — has been fierce, dividing many. Is Bradley Cooper’s character an honest portrait of an American hero? Is the film right-wing pro-war propaganda? Does it glorify a person who’s a professional murderer? With all of this in the background, just how did American Sniper emerge as an unstoppable force at the box office?
American Sniper ranked number one for three consecutive weekends, and as of this writing, it has a domestic total of $282.3 million. Many agree that the polarization between the right and the left is the source of why the film has been so popular. The fact that it received six Oscar nominations, including nods for best picture and for best actor have definitely helped. But that still does not fully explain how American Sniper stayed at the top.
American Sniper becomes ambiguous as an anti-war film arguably because Bradley Cooper did not want to face—the moral dilemmas of who he was killing. It’s a movie released in January, a soft-sell month. It’s not a sequel with a built-in audience. Not since Zero Dark Thirty has there been a successful film about war; but war movies do not sell. The Hurt Locker was critically acclaimed but failed to find an audience. Even box-office superstar, Matt Damon, could not revive the film, Green Zone.
According to some critics, American Sniper became a hit because it stimulated discussion and debate in ways recent films have not. Once in a while a movie like American Sniper comes along and reaches a broad audience. According to Phil Contrino, a movie analyst at BoxOffice.com, “People want to see [the film] because they want to be part of the national conversation around it.”
Written by Augustine Reyes Chan