Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper”: the highest grossing war film of all time

American Sniper Clint Eastwood Bradley Cooper 600x358
Right before last weekend began, something truly unexpected happened. Yes, Clint Eastwood’s controversial but hugely popular and profitable war film American Sniper passed Steven Spielberg’s classic Saving Private Ryan to become the number one movie of its ilk of all time at the box office. In short, not only is it the top grossing film about the post 9/11 terrorism related wars, which have been iffy at the box office to date, it’s surpassed all the films about World War II and every other conflict as well, taking in an estimated $249 million, as of today (it also just had the second biggest Super Bowl weekend take ever). Just a month or so ago, no one would have ever dreamed about this. If you’re looking for the main reason why American Sniper is a dark horse in all of its Oscar categories, this is why. Money can talk.

For comparison, I wanted to show a few box office related lists to you all, to properly show the sorts of films that Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s movie has now left in the dust. It’s basically a who’s who of the genre, that much is true. In terms of all war films, Spielberg’s aforementioned epic is at the top (also obviously at the forefront of the WWII box office) with $216 million, while the modern conflict record was previously held by last year’s surprise hit Lone Survivor (directed by Peter Berg), which came in at $125 million. This year though, American Sniper took that heartland popularity, ran with it, put it on steroids, and blew the competition away. It’ll wind up not only doubling Lone Survivor at the box office, but potentially beating Saving Private Ryan by a minimum of $50 million.

Here’s what the previous top ten war film box offices of all time looked like, prior to American Sniper:

1. Saving Private Ryan – $216 million
2. Pearl Harbor – $198 million
3. Captain America: The First Avenger – $176 million
4. Inglourious Basterds – $120 million
5. Unbroken – $113 million (and counting)
6. Schindler’s List – $96 million
7. Fury – $85 million (and counting)
8. Valkyrie – $83 million
9. War Horse – $79 million
10. The Monuments Men – $78 million

And here’s what the top ten at the box office for the modern conflict movies looked like, prior to American Sniper:

1. Lone Survivor – $125 million
2. Zero Dark Thirty – $95 million
3. Act of Valor – $70 million
4. Jarhead – $62 million
5. The Kingdom – $47 million
6. Body of Lies – $39 million
7. Green Zone – $35 million
8. The Hurt Locker – $17 million
9. Stop-Loss – $10 million
10. The Messenger – $1.1 million

So, what does this mean for Oscar? Well, everything and nothing. Everything in the sense of it’s what’s keeping the film in play, give or take the almost universal acclaim for Cooper’s lead role, which is the dark horse/potential spoiler in the Best Actor race. Nothing in the sense of it still having a long way to go to really threaten in the main categories. Sure, it could pick up a Sound win (Best Sound Editing or Best Sound Mixing) or something of that nature, but Best Picture or Best Adapted Screenplay would take a continued sea change (Best Actor too, but slightly less so), something that is unlikely to happen, particularly with the political controversies surrounding American Sniper. It’s got mainstream popularity, but in the same way that Selma was crippled by issues about its truthfulness, American Sniper is suffering from that microscope as well.

My best guess here is that the film will either win one of the Sound categories or go home empty handed. Yes, there’s a small chance that American Sniper pulls off the Adapted Screenplay or Actor upset, but it’s nothing to bank on at all. Eastwood’s movie could easily get shut out when it comes to wins, but it’s going to loom large for the rest of the season. If he somehow shocks with a Directors Guild of America win, that could fuel it in Picture, but I suspect it’ll be a technical win or bust here. Sit tight though…

Stay tuned to see if American Sniper can pull of a big surprise win!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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