Top Film Industry Stories of 2015
#4: American Sniper
By Kim Hollis
January 21, 2016
The question at this point became, “What happened here?” The answer is complex, because a lot of interesting (and sometimes competing) factors came into play.
First, American Sniper was able to build some nice buzz through a strategically small release on those four screens. Its trailer was tension-filled and effective, putting the viewer in Chris Kyle's shoes in a real-time scenario. Before the movie had arrived, people were already able to empathize with the character. The fans who saw the film during its limited release had mostly positive things to say, although there was some pushback from the more progressive contingent of the audience, who felt some discomfort in the way real-life events were depicted (not to mention some controversy over Kyle's hero status and the accuracy of his portrayal of his tour). You'd think that in a town like Hollywood, that kind of pushback would present a massive hurdle for a film like American Sniper, but instead it garnered awards attention and a lot of back and forth between critics on the quality of the film itself.
Even without reservations from liberals, the conservative, Republican-voting audience was going to support American Sniper wholeheartedly. Besides being directed by a conservative icon (Eastwood spoke at the 2012 Republican Convention), the film also specifically looks at its real-life protagonist as a hero of the war in Iraq, a gentleman known for having the most “kills” on record. American Sniper doesn't glorify this violence or craft a “war is good” kind of message, but it definitely is pro-soldier (a position that is nearly impossible for anyone to argue with). With some discussion about PTSD emerging in the months and year prior to the film's release, people wanted to embrace Kyle's story. Not only did he suffer from PTSD himself, but Kyle also helped others who had issues, eventually leading to his own shooting death at the hands of a fellow former soldier who was dealing with trauma.
Many people viewed their support for American Sniper as a way to show their support for American soldiers and their families, especially Kyle's widow, who did a lot of support for the film during the marketing and promotional campaign. At the same time, a number of people who had heard about the dichotomy between the views of conservatives and progressives chose to see the film so that they could decide for themselves which opinion was “correct.” If anything, the controversy around the film helped it.
All of these factors combined (along with some good old fashioned red, white and blue patriotism) to propel American Sniper to unimaginable heights. It was a story no one could have predicted, not even in 2015 when the film was making waves in its limited release. These are the kinds of film industry stories that make our jobs fun - and challenging.