'American Sniper': The Strategy Behind Warner Bros.' $107M Opening
Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman can't count the number of times he has called Clint Eastwood over the years to relay opening-weekend box office. But never had he phoned with news like this: American Sniper was exploding. It was Saturday morning, Jan. 17, and Fellman informed the 84-year-old filmmaker, who lives in Carmel, Calif., and doesn't use email, that Sniperlooked to cross $80 million over the four-day weekend. Fellman wasn't planning on calling Eastwood again until Monday — but by late Saturday, it became clear that the $60 million-budgeted Sniper was surging to a historic $107.2 million North American launch. So he called again: "I've never seen anything like this in my career," he told Eastwood.
American Sniper's performance is a seminal event for Hollywood. Not only has the adaptation of the late Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle's memoir energized Middle America, it also is resonating with more upscale, liberal audiences after landing six Oscar nominations, including best picture and best actor for Bradley Cooper. Sniper recorded the top opening of all time for a non-tentpole, eclipsing the $83.8 million debut of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. And heated political debate around the film (Michael Moore suggested it is pro-war and that snipers are cowards; Sarah Palin thanked Eastwood and Cooper and lashed out at "Hollywood leftists" criticizing the film) has made it the talk of cable news and social media.