Why America loves war movies

"American Sniper" is poised to clean up again at the box office

Paul Vercammen, CNN - HOLLYWOOD, CA (CNN) – Squeeze the trigger and they will come, an American tradition, paying at the theater to watch countrymen wage war overseas.

Rewind and box office smash hits include Gary Cooper playing real life marksman Sergeant York, and John Wayne leading from the sands of Iwo Jima. "Platoon" captured the Vietnam generation's attention and dollars. Now, it's "American Sniper," with Bradley Cooper playing navy seal sniper Chris Kyle.

According the Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst at Rentrak, "The biggest weekend ever for a film is in January; $89 million for the three day part of the weekend and $107 million for four days, Friday to Monday, for Martin Luther King weekend. That's a brand new record"

‘Sniper' is also benefitting from controversy over Kyle, some questioning if he is a hero. Every defaced billboard or negative tweet equals free marketing. Even more publicity, the upcoming death penalty trial of Kyle's confessed killer, Eddie Ray Routh. The defendant's lawyer argues the success of the "American Sniper" will impact jurors and he wants the trial moved out of a small Texas town.

Another recent war movie hit, "Lone Survivor," also getting extra attention in its video afterlife. The afghan villager who protected and treated wounded seal Marcus Luttrell is now seeking asylum in the U.S.

However, despite topical buzz, Americans aren't always ready to watch depictions of the horrors of recent combat for a spell, Middle East conflict movies, often called sand movies inside Hollywood, struggled to reach hit level.

Dergarabedian said, "Movies like the ‘Green Zone', ‘Jarhead', and ‘The Kingdom' did okay but they were not out hits in the way that ‘Zero Dark Thirty', ‘Lone Survivor' and ‘American Sniper' are."

Despite winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, "The Hurt Locker" made just $17 million domestic for its entire run. "American Sniper" made more than that in a day.

Film Critic Jeffrey Lyons said, "It's a bit of a catharsis to the horrific attacks in Paris. We wanted to see a movie in which the bad people, or people helping the bad people, are in the scope of a sniper."

"American Sniper" has a long way to go to catch the reigning American war hero movie champ; "Saving Private Ryan" cranked out almost $380 million domestically, adjusted for today's prices. It won critical acclaim for its realistic portrayal of battles, and yet Academy Award voters snubbed it for best picture.

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