American Sniper, the controversial movie about the Iraq veteran Chris Kyle, was set to take more than $200m at the US box office by Sunday night, setting a record for a non-franchise movie.
The film, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Bradley Cooper, was projected to make $65m in its second full week on wide release, according to trade analyst BoxOffice.com . By Friday, ticket sales had topped $154m.
The Oscar contender has divided public opinion. Talk-show host Bill Maher called Kyle, the Navy Seal played by Cooper, a “psychopathic patriot”; former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin called the movie “epic” and Kyle a “true American hero”. Rupert Murdoch, chairman of 21st Century Fox, tweeted: “Hollywood leftists trash American Hero, show how completely out of touch they are with America. Bravo Clint Eastwood!”
The movie has also sparked an intense debate over the role of snipers and the legacy of the Iraq war.
Last week, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee wrote to Eastwood and Cooper asking them to speak out “in an effort to help reduce the hateful rhetoric” that has sprung up around the film. The group cited a “drastic increase” in hate speech on social media since the film’s release.
The movie has also been criticised for sanitizing Kyle’s story. Kyle, who wrote about his four tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2009 in a book of the same name as the film, is believed to be the deadliest sniper in US history and to have killed more than 160 people.
In the film, Cooper portrays Kyle as haunted by his service. In his book, Kyle refers to his enemies as “savage, despicable” and writes: “I only wish I had killed more.”
The movie also glosses over Kyle’s post-war life, in which he made up stories about shooting looters after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and was sued by Jesse Ventura, the former wrestler and governor of Minnesota. Kyle falsely claimed to have punched Ventura for badmouthing troops who had been sent to Iraq. Kyle was killed at a shooting range before the case came to trial, but a jury awarded Ventura $1.8m and determined none of what he had written was true.
Related: The real American Sniper was a hate-filled killer. Why are simplistic patriots treating him as a hero? | Lindy West
The movie and Kyle have found support with some veterans. Screenwriter Jason Hall recently told Variety the movie had opened up a dialogue for several generations of veterans and their families.
At the Producers Guild Award Nominees breakfast in Los Angeles on Saturday, Eastwood also hit back at critics. “The biggest antiwar statement any film” can make is to show “the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did”, he said.
The debate over the film appears only to have fueled audience appetite. American Sniper easily outstripped the weekend’s other big releases, thriller The Boy Next Door, starring Jennifer Lopez, and Mortdecai, starring Johnny Depp. The Boy Next Door looked set to take $16m over the weekend while Mortdecai was set to be another in a series of flops for Depp. BoxOffice.com predicted sales of $6m-$7m for the goofy comedy.
Related: Chris Kyle and the Iraq war are more complex than American Sniper – or criticism of it | Colby Buzzell
Eastwood’s latest war movie enjoyed the biggest ever second-weekend gross for a non-franchise movie and will be his biggest movie since 2008’s Gran Torino, which took $148m at the US box office and $270m worldwide, according to analyst Box Office Mojo.
Sniper has now become the top-grossing movie among the eight best picture nominees for this years Academy Awards. Its closest financial rival, Grand Budapest Hotel, has earned $174m worldwide.
Cooper is nominated for best actor in a leading role. Eastwood last took home Oscars for directing and best picture for Million Dollar Baby, in 2004.
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