American Sniper: Eastwood’s (Critically Underestimated) Masterpiece is Year’s Top-Grossing Film

It’s official:  American Sniper, Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, is the highest-grossing 2014 domestic release.

The R-rated drama has made $337.2 million since debuting in a few of theaters last December. That puts it ahead of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1″ and its $336.8 million gross as the top film of last year.

“American Sniper” hadn’t even been scheduled for release last year. It was originally slated to debut in Christmas of 2015, but Eastwood finished editing the picture early.

Due to the modest budget of only $58.8 million, the biopic of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle represents a substantial return on Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow’s investment.

“The heroic story of Chris Kyle just hit the zeitgeist,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner distribution executive vice president. “It doesn’t matter your politics, it’s a story that just touched everybody personally.”

Globally, “American Sniper” won’t be able to match the $1.1 billion that “Transformers: Age of Extinction” pulled in, but it has been a strong player, particularly given that films with patriotic subject matter don’t tend to travel well abroad. It has made over $140 million in foreign markets.

“American Sniper” easily outstrips director Clint Eastwood’s previous releases, giving the 84-year old the biggest hit of his career. It’s also star Bradley Cooper’s highest-grossing domestic release.

An unlikely Hollywood blockbuster, American Sniper has no fantasy or special effects elements.  Moreover, the film deals with the unpopular Iraq War, which has been a box-office poison for pictures like “Rendition” and “In the Valley of Elah.”

American Sniper also marks the first time since 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan” that a realistic drama and an R-rated film has been a year’s top domestic release.

The film had its detractors, with some critics decrying the picture for whitewashing the life story of Kyle and for lionizing sharpshooters. However, the film played well in red and blue states, with audience members responding to the film’s depiction of Kyle as a dedicated serviceman and hero.