Since its release, "American Sniper" has made more than $307 million domestically, spent three weeks as the No. 1 film in the country and received six Oscar nominations. It has also become a major part of the national political conversation.
Terrorism and national security are top of the minds of many Americans in the wake of the attack at the Paris offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the seemingly unending string of Islamic State executions and beheadings. "Sniper" has tapped into that anxiety at a fortuitous time. As our Philip Bump noted, the film has sold six times as many tickets as "Selma."
It's also particularly noteworthy given the looming GOP presidential primary in which Republicans are still figuring out their foreign policy messages
"It comes against a backdrop of other things voters are seeing," said Jon Lerner, a GOP strategist. "Certainly with Republican primary voters, there's a heightened interest and concern with terrorism."
A Gallup poll released Friday found 84 percent of Americans view the Islamic State and international terrorism as a "critical threat," a higher percentage than Iran developing nuclear weapons, North Korea, Russia, or the conflict between Israel and Palestine. And opinion of Obama's handling of the situation is underwater. A CNN/ORC poll Tuesday found 57 percent disapprove, up from 49 percent in September.
Already, potential Republican 2016 candidates have criticized Obama's request for a limited authorization to use military force to fight the Islamic State. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called Obama's strategy "photo-op foreign policy" and said there's been no "clear objective" for how to destroy the Islamic State, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the limits on the authorization, including a three-year expiration date, "unprecedented."
Others have yet to offer specifics. During his recent trip to London, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said it was impolite to answer foreign policy questions while in a foreign country, although he has previously said Obama hasn't been aggressive enough. Jeb Bush is expected to outline his foreign policy views Wednesday at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. But when asked how he would have handled Iraq and Afghanistan differently than his brother last week, he said he would focus on the future and not the past.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has also not commented specifically on his opinion of Obama's plan, but blamed the rise of the Islamic State on Hillary Clinton, saying Libya, where a NATO-led military intervention ousted leader Moammar Gaddafi during her time as secretary of state, had become “a breeding ground for terrorists."
Opinions of "American Sniper" -- and its lessons -- have been deeply divided, with some seeing it as pro-war and some as anti-war, while others link it to a rise in Islamophobia. Following the fatal shooting of three Muslims in Chapel Hill, N.C., last week, Suzanne Barakat, the sister of Deah Barakat, one of the victims, said the film dehumanizes Muslims. A spokesman for the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee noted in an interview with the Independent that anti-Muslim and anti-Arab remarks by those who've seen the film are growing and are alarming.
"I think to some degree, people see it through the lens of what their thoughts are on the war on terror," Lerner said. For those supportive of the war, the film "makes them feel as though our cause is important and just."
The reaction and debate over the film presages a foreign-policy debate that is still somewhat amorphous. And whether candidates can articulate a strategy to fight the Islamic State and terrorism that's viewed as more decisive than Obama's could very well help him or her with Republican voters.