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Clint Eastwood earned himself a victory lap. His latest film, American Sniper, ended up being his most successful film to date (financially speaking). It even wiped our memories clear of the woebegone Jersey Boys, which came out during the same calendar year! We have written many a column talking about how Eastwood’s Chris Kyle biopic performed at the box office, but haven’t dedicated too much space to the why of the equation. Luckily, Eastwood has some thoughts.
During an interview with the L.A. Times at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, Clint Eastwood spoke about the surprise hit he notched in American Sniper at the end of last year. When asked why he thought this, of all movies, ended up being his highest-grossing film, the legendary actor-director reflected:
There’s been a lot of news in this last year about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and everybody has opinions on it, but nobody has really thought about it from the point of view of the people that go there. It opens a lot of questions that are fun to broach."
"Fun" isn’t necessarily a word I’d associate with American Sniper, though it is a probing and touching look at war, and the effects combat can have on soldiers. By singling out the story of expert marksman Chris Kyle, Eastwood painted a portrait of a patriot, but didn’t stop short of delivering precise social commentary on the way men return home from overseas battles, and the systems in place to help these men assimilate.
Audiences connected. Big time. American Sniper took in a staggering $348 million in domestic tickets sold, and added an additional $193M overseas, pushing its cume to $541M. Critics gave largely positive grades, and the Academy bestowed American Sniper with six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It won one trophy, for Best Achievement in Sound Editing.
But why did it connect on this level? There are a few reasons Eastwood doesn’t mention, though they are obvious. The movie’s based on a best-selling book, and that always helps bring in a larger audience. It also helped the timing of American Sniper that it coincided with the trial for the man accused of murdering Kyle and another military veteran – a crime the man was eventually found guilty of performing. Finally, word-of-mouth seemed to be very strong for Clint Eastwood’s movie, both for the direction and for Bradley Cooper’s Oscar-nominated turn as Kyle. All of these factors led to a smashing success for Clint, and – as he put it – gave him some "fun" questions to explore.