How 'American Sniper' became the highest-grossing US film of 2014

The sensational box-office run of “American Sniper” hit its peak this week with news the bio pic of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is now thehighest-grossingUS film of last year with $US337.4 million.

Not bad for a film with a budget just under $US60 million.

To put the success of “American Sniper” in perspective: the film made more than “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” ($US337 million), “Guardians of the Galaxy” ($US333 million), and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” ($US259.8 million) stateside.

Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle, the film garnered six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor (it would win only for Best Sound Editing), but its true success was its surprising box-office take, even though it received mixed reactions by the critics.

But it seems Eastwood films are impervious to criticism.

Counting “American Sniper,” Eastwood has directed six movies for Warner Bros. and all of them easily made their money back (only “Hereafter” and “Invictus” needed overseas grosses to get them in the black), thanks to Eastwood’s modest budgets for his films that usually range between $US30 million – $US60 million.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Eastwood’s lightening-quick shooting and bare-bones style of filmmaking, the “American Sniper” script would likely still be on the shelf. Steven Spielberg was originally supposed to helm the project after “Lincoln,” but in the summer of 2013 he backed out, reportedly due Warner Bros.’ insistence that it only be a $US60 million picture. A week later, Warner Bros. called Eastwood and the rest is history.

But the success of “American Sniper” also is a textbook example of great marketing and good timing.

The film only opened on four screens on Christmas Day, making it eligible for Oscar consideration, and grossed just over $US633,000.

But then the Warner Bros. marketing team kicked in.

Retelling Kyle’s story, powerful ads and trailers of Cooper conflicted over his responsibility on the battlefield and the pull from his family back home. The Oscar buzz began, along with pieces questioning the accuracy of the film. The pump was primed and by the time the film went wide over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, it became the highest January opening ever with over $US90 million.

From there, the film’s grosses soared and so did the country’s interest.

Kyle’s wife began doing press leading up to the Oscars, and though the film didn’t do well during awards season, the trial for Kyle’s killer — Eddie Ray Routh, an Iraqi war veteran who shot Kyle and his friend in the back while the two brought him to a shooting range in 2013 — was already underway. It quickly became dubbed the “American Sniper” trail, and was the final jolt for a film that had now fully gripped a nation.

While “American Sniper” topped every movie in 2014, the most fascinating stat may be that Eastwood’s film is the first drama/non-franchise title to be the highest grossing of the year since 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan.” In doing so passes Steven Spielberg’s war epic as the highest-grossing war movie of all time.

Think Spielberg’s regretting passing on “Sniper” now?

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