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‘American Sniper’ could become highest-grossing 2014 domestic release, analysts say

LOS ANGELES ( - "American Sniper" has "Mockingjay" in its sights.

LOS ANGELES ( - "American Sniper" has "Mockingjay" in its sights.

The war drama is poised to surpass the most recent edition of "The Hunger Games" as 2014's top-grossing release, analysts say. The Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow pic has made $282.4 million thus far, putting it in third place on the charts, behind "Mockingjay -- Part 1," which has earned $335.7 million, and "Guardians of the Galaxy," which has grossed $333.2 million. is now predicting that the film will generate $360 million-$365 million during its domestic run.

"It has a really good chance to hit that number," said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. "It's one of those things that's in the zeitgeist, and people want to see it. Everybody's talking about the the film, and people want to be part of the conversation."

Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' head of domestic distribution, was more cautious about the film's prospects. "We'll take it one week at a time," he said. "But it's certainly moving in that direction."

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1" had made $324.3 million domestically at the same point in its release, but it was more front-loaded. "American Sniper" has been more of an endurance act, dropping only incrementally week to week. Last weekend, the film fell a meager 24%, picking up $23.3 million.

At its current clip, "American Sniper" will pass $300 million by next week. It reaches that milestone because of its success appealing to a diverse range of audiences in red and blue states. Conservatives appreciated the film's valorizing of fighting men and women, while liberals argue that its scenes of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder make it an anti-war picture.

It's an unlikely blockbuster, given that Iraq War films such as "Jarhead" and "The Hurt Locker" crashed and burned at the multiplexes. Moreover, for director Clint Eastwood to have had this kind of record-breaking success at the age of 84 is nearly unprecedented.

"It's a cultural phenomenon," said Fellman. "It takes its place not only in box office history but in our history as well. I couldn't be more pleased for Mr. Eastwood to have a success like this at this point in his career."

Controversy about whether or not Kyle embellished his record and debate over whether he was more cold-blooded killer than hero have only burnished "American Sniper's" reputation as a water-cooler event.

With President's Day Weekend looming, the film should continue to play well. "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "Kingsman: The Secret Service" are both opening over the holiday, but they appeal to women and younger men, respectively. With an audience that skews older, "American Sniper" is well positioned to continue to thrive.

The film has already toppled several records, surpassing "Saving Private Ryan" as the top-grossing war film. It will also be the fourth highest-grossing domestic release in Warner Bros.' history, behind "The Dark Knight," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2."

It is unlikely, however, to supplant "The Passion of the Christ's" $370.8 million gross to become the biggest R-rated release of all time.

It won't edge out the likes of "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" at the global box office, given that both films grossed about $1 billion.

Still "American Sniper" has done well abroad, earning $79.5 million overseas. That's a strong result for a film with "American" in the title, given that foreign audiences equate the word with jingoism. Those overseas numbers will get a boost in the coming weeks, as the film rolls out in France, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Germany and Japan, among other key markets.

Even if it doesn't become the highest-grossing 2014 release, analysts argue that "American Sniper" is a major victory for star Bradley Cooper, Eastwood and Warner Bros.

"It doesn't need to surpass 'Hunger Games' to demonstrate that it's a success," said Eric Handler, managing director of MKM Partners. "People are always willing to write off the film industry when films like 'Jupiter Ascending' and 'Seventh Son' bomb, but people tend to forget about films like this that don't cost much and far exceed expectations."