Eastwood's biggest film ever? The bar started low

'American Sniper' as Eastwood's biggest film?
'American Sniper' as Eastwood's biggest film?

"American Sniper," starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood, is on pace to earn over $300 million at the box office in its first four weeks. That's according to data from the Hollywood Stock Exchange,

With a number that high, it would be the all-time highest-grossing movie in the history of Eastwood's career as a director.

Here's the catch though: His bar was very low. Most of his movies haven't made that much money individually. He has certainly churned out a huge quantity of films, and made a lot of money in aggregate, but his per-movie average hasn't been all that high.

"American Sniper," which has grossed over $200 million since it opened on Jan. 16, will far surpass any other movie from the list. Only three others cracked the $100 million-mark: "Gran Torino" at $148 million, along with "Unforgiven" and "Million Dollar Baby," which just barely made it over—at $101 million each.

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Obviously, the older movies should be compared with inflation-adjusted dollars. When we do that, we see that "American Sniper" is still number one, and only 10 movies are over $100 million.

An analysis of the movie by Bruce Nash, who runs the movie industry site The, suggested it should have also fallen short of $100 million. "We'd expect a movie like this, made by Clint Eastwood and with this kind of cast to do more like $40m to $50m at the domestic box office."

Eastwood's total record as a director is certainly top-notch in terms of total dollars. He's 11th all-time in box office revenues, and might crack the top 10 if Sniper performs a bit beyond current expectations. However, when compared to other big-name directors, Eastwood's per-movie average is one of the lowest, and his single best movie performance is one of the lowest as well. He makes up for it in volume. As Bill Simmons wrote in 2009:

Within Hollywood circles, his directing is legendary for a different reason: Eastwood bangs out expensive movies under budget and ahead of schedule. Doesn't shoot a ton of takes, doesn't drift from the script, doesn't waste afternoons waiting for the sun to set just right, stuff like that. He's the most efficient director working today. Because we like him personally, he gets more credit than he deserves (in particular, "Gran Torino" and "Mystic River" were wildly overrated) and a free pass every time he makes a clunker. ... By all accounts, Eastwood bangs out a project, takes a few weeks off, then bangs out the next one.

Finally, one way to see this all pieced together in a single chart is Eastwood's location on the scatterplot. He is on the far, low end of the spectrum: representing a high number of movies directed, but a low average value for each movie. Contrast that with other big-name directors closer to the middle of the chart.