The 'American Sniper Effect': What it says about the 2016 election

Does 'Sniper' predict election success?
Does 'Sniper' predict election success?   

Has Hollywood just handed the Republicans a huge favor for 2016?

Tinseltown hasn't been exactly friendly to the GOP since John Wayne and Ronald Reagan were big stars, so let's call this favor accidental.

But it's a favor all the same.

I'm talking about the runaway hit movie "American Sniper," which has just become the top grossing war film of all time.

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The biopic about Navy SEAL Chris Kyle has brought in about $250 million at the U.S. box office alone and just broke the record for a Super Bowl weekend with an almost $32 million domestic haul.

That means millions of Americans are not only going to see this movie, but many of them are seeing it more than once. And they're paying real money to see it at real theaters, as opposed to downloading on their iPads or phones for $5 or less.

2015 perfect box office year: Pro
2015 perfect box office year: Pro   

And while critics and chattering class intellectuals in the Northeast go back and forth from bashing the film to insisting "Sniper" is really an anti-war movie, the truth is audiences are embracing the story of a real American hero who was proud to do his duty for his country at war against a real enemy.

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That fact should make the men and women hoping to run for president in 2016 sit up and take notice, particularly the Republican candidates who could benefit the most from what I call the "American Sniper Effect."

"Sniper" is popular because Americans like a hero. And it should be telling that so many Americans consider someone a hero even after he took out 160 enemy soldiers and terrorists.

The angst and doubt we've seen in an endless list of Hollywood flops about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror as a whole were not evident in the persona of Chief Petty Officer Kyle and more importantly, it's not something we're seeing from the devoted fans of the movie that portrays him.

Why are so many Americans so admiring of Kyle and what he did overseas? It's not because we're a bunch of blood thirsty war mongers, no matter what Michael Moore, Seth Rogen or your daughter's political science professor says.

The reason is that with the daily tallies of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Hezbollah killings still dominating the news, movie consumers are convinced that more Americans like Chris Kyle are needed to stand up to this still-growing threat of Islamist terror.

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And in venerating Kyle, Hollywood is shifting back to one of its traditional roles in American society.

The American movie business has always weighed in on American wars; before, during and after the fighting. And as Emmy-winning screenwriter and Hollywood historian Robert J. Avrech has written, the fact is that the U.S. has never successfully carried out a foreign war and its aftermath without Hollywood's approval in the form of patriotic pro-war movies and celebrity testimonials.

As a whole industry, Hollywood certainly hasn't turned a corner on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the war on Islamist terror, but "Sniper" is a big change from all the films that have either portrayed American soldiers in those wars as either misguided or mentally ill.

In other words, "Sniper" assures audiences that these wars are worth fighting and the men and women fighting them are extraordinary Americans.

The big question is: Which candidates are listening? Because even in the multi-billion world of presidential campaigning and fundraising, $250 million isn't chump change.

So far, one potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate seems to be getting the message the most. That would be Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has made a point lately of calling for more aggressive action against ISIS including possible boots on the ground in Syria and Iraq. He's making the simple case that we must do a much better job of standing up to a group of terrorist thugs who behead hostages, rape and enslave young girls, target Arab Christians and kill their fellow Muslims indiscriminately.

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That's a far cry from the messages we heard from Mitt Romney in 2012 and even John McCain in 2008. Both of them put foreign policy on a relative backburner and certainly did not make a habit of trumpeting the feats of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. They seemed to buy in to the intellectual class' assertion that Americans were all too "war weary" to talk about foreign threats and American heroes.

It may be a total coincidence, but Walker's poll numbers are surging lately in Iowa. If that keeps up, other GOP candidates and even the Democrats will start to get it.

But it is still the Republicans who are more likely to use what "Sniper" tells us to their advantage. GOP candidates almost always win elections when foreign policy issues dominate the news and the national conversation.

So if the folks in the Republican presidential field can stop obsessing about domestic issues alone for a second, they might find that a hit movie is showing them the path to victory not only at the ballot box, but perhaps on the battlefield as well.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Street Signs." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.