Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper," which tells the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, has grossed $90.2 million at the box office this weekend, shattering previous January records.
According to Bryan Alexander of USA Today, the total topped the previous January high set by James Cameron's Avatar in 2010, which grossed $68 million. Given the Martin Luther King holiday, the film could smash another record; Warner Bros. estimated that the extra day could help "American Sniper" make $105 million.
"This is staggering. It's blockbuster numbers in January, the sort of numbers usually reserved for summer films and superhero movies," Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst for Rentrak, said. "No one saw this coming. The film has been building an audience and blasting any projections all weekend."
USA Today added that "American Sniper" received six Academy Award nominations on Thursday, including best picture and Bradley Cooper, who plays the sniper, for best actor. According to CinemaScore, audiences have given the film an "A+" rating.
Blockbuster box office figures aside, Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Religion News Service reported that Kyle, described by some as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, wrote in his autobiography that his biggest priorities in life were "God, country, family." However, like Angelina Jolie's World War II film "Unbroken," which focused on the life of Louis Zamperini, God "doesn't make a central appearance in the film."
"Both stories focus on the dramatic stories of warriors who died before the movie versions of their lives came out," Bailey wrote. "Both men struggle with substance abuse after returning from war. And both films largely skirt the faith that Kyle and Zamperini said were key to their identity - and their survival."
Kyle wrote a 2012 autobiography entitled "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," which drew national attention. According to Bailey, Kyle reportedly recording 160 kill shots during his four tours in Iraq as a Navy SEAL.
In his book, Kyle elaborated on the ethics of combat as he made his first sniper shot, which according to Bailey involved killing an Iraqi woman holding a grenade.
"My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman's twisted soul," he wrote. "I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job. But I truly, deeply hated the evil that woman possessed. I hate it to this day."
However, Bailey wrote that Kyle was not a "straight-laced Christian," noting that his book was full of "profanities and stories of his family struggles." Despite that, evidence of his faith is written there.
"I was raised with, and still believe in, the Christian faith. If I had to order my priorities, they would be God, Country, Family," Kyle wrote. "There might be some debate on where those last two fall - these days I've come around to believe that Family may, under some circumstances, outrank Country. But it's a close race."
In comparison to the film version, Bailey reported that the "God, country, family" line is mentioned in passing when Kyle was asked by another soldier if he believed in God. He was also shown putting his Bible in one of his uniform's pockets in the film.
"There's evil," Cooper said in his portrayal of Kyle. "We've seen it."
According to Bailey, Kyle elaborated on his faith in the book. Although he believed in God, he admitted that he did not "necessarily get down on my knees or sing real loud in church," noting that he was "not the kind of person who makes a big show out of religion."
"I find some comfort in faith, and I found it in those days after my friends had been shot up," Kyle wrote. "Ever since I had gone through BUD/S (SEAL training), I'd carried a Bible with me. I hadn't read it all that much, but it had always been with me. Now I opened it and read some of the passages. I skipped around, read a bit, skipped around some more. With all hell breaking loose around me, it felt better to know I was part of something bigger."
Kyle also described how his family shaped his Christian beliefs in the book.
"My family had a deep faith in God. My dad was a deacon, and my mom taught Sunday school," Kyle wrote. "I remember a stretch when I was young when we would go to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. Still we didn't consider ourselves overly religious, just good people who believed in God and were involved in our church. Truth is, back then, I didn't like going a lot of the time."
According to Nicholas Schmidle of The New Yorker in a 2013 article, Kyle seemed to think of himself as "a cross between a lawman and an executioner." In addition to ignoring standard military dress codes and using the image of the Marvel Comics character known as the Punisher on his equipment, religion played a role in his worldview.
"Like many soldiers, Kyle was deeply religious and saw the Iraq War through that prism," Schmidle wrote. "He tattooed one of his arms with a red crusader's cross, wanting 'everyone to know I was a Christian.'"
Despite the fact that he killed people as part of his military duties, Bailey noted that Kyle declared himself a "strong Christian," albeit an imperfect one in his book.
"I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one - not close," Kyle wrote. "But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I've done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins."
Kyle admitted that while he didn't know what would happen on Judgment Day, he noted that his personal relationship with Jesus would cover all his sins.
"I believe the fact that I've accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation," he wrote. "But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die."
According to Bailey, Kyle was shot and killed at a Texas shooting range in 2013 when he was trying to help a fellow Iraq veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.