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‘American Sniper’ Gets a Hero’s Welcome

A-sniper-WSJ

Resonating With People in Smaller Cities, Military Film Has Huge $105.3 Million Debut Weekend

Ben Fritz and Dan Molinski Steve Smith: an Army veteran and schoolteacher, walked out of a movie theater in Plano, Texas, on Saturday with tears in his eyes. After years of movie studios getting the military experience wrong with films like “The Hurt Locker,” the 33-year-old said, “American Sniper” had nailed it.
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“’American Sniper’ garnered better reviews than ‘Lone Survivor’ or ‘Unbroken’ and, unlike the latter two, received multiple Academy Award nominations, including for best picture—helping to ensure it performed well across the country and wasn’t exclusively a ‘red state’ phenomenon.”

Based on the memoir of Chris Kyle, reputed to be the deadliest sniper in the American military during the Iraq war, “American Sniper” opened to a phenomenal $105.3 million in the U.S. and Canada over the four-day holiday weekend, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros., owned by Time Warner Inc.

“What these movies share is they’re utterly unironic. They treat American values honorably.”

— Michael Moses, Universal’s co-president of marketing

Its success was driven in large part by moviegoers like Mr. Smith who live in smaller cities and don’t regularly go to the multiplex.

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“Chris Kyle was a fellow veteran, a fellow Texan. He’s very much a true legend,” Mr. Smith said while holding hands with his wife, Crystal. “So it was basically a foregone conclusion I’d be here as soon as it opened.”

“When the phone calls started coming in from exhibitors, I realized we had something special happening in the South and in small towns where our movies sometimes find it difficult to resonate.”

— Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

Such a massive opening for a mid-budget drama was perhaps Hollywood’s biggest surprise since “Avengers” blew away box-office records by opening to $207 million in 2012. “Sniper,” directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, enjoyed the largest opening ever for a drama or R-rated film and more than doubled the prior record for Martin Luther King Day weekend.

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“Its success is the strongest evidence yet that audiences including veterans and cultural conservatives who are more concentrated in the South and Midwest feel underserved by Hollywood and will turn out in droves for movies that are inspiring, patriotic and sincere.”

Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures also had surprising success last month with the historical military drama “Unbroken” and last year with the Afghan war movie “Lone Survivor.”

a movie audience

“Opening-night audiences gave “Sniper” an average grade of A+, according to market-research firm CinemaScore.”

Eight of the top 10 markets for “American Sniper” were in the South or Midwest, including San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Houston, Nashville and Albuquerque. Typically, major cities like New York and Los Angeles dominate the top theater rankings for a successful film because they have larger concentrations of frequent moviegoers and higher ticket prices.

All five of the top theaters for “Lone Survivor” were in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, while “Unbroken” performed extremely well in small cities such as Mesa, Ariz., and Lehi, Utah. Meanwhile, all three movies underperformed in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada, compared with the norm.

To reach more conservative audiences, Warner Bros. advertised and arranged publicity on Fox News, military blogs, and in “Soldier of Fortune” magazine, along with more traditional outlets like NFL playoff games, said the studio’s president of world-wide marketing, Sue Kroll.

Particularly important, she said, were screenings that began before Thanksgiving for veterans’ groups and on military bases to build buzz that the movie wasn’t just good but also authentic. Mr. Kyle’s widow participated in publicity along with Mr. Cooper… (read more)

WSJ

Write to Ben Fritz at ben.fritz@wsj.com and Dan Molinski at Dan.Molinski@wsj.com

 

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