Filmmaker Michael Moore said the box office record-setting film “American Sniper” owes its success to “the ‘Passion of Christ’ crowd.”

In a long question and answer session published on the website Vice.com, Moore, who was widely criticized by everyone from Kid Rock to John McCain for tweets saying snipers were cowards, said he witnessed firsthand the film’s audience demographic when he saw “American Sniper” in the politically liberal neighborhood of Greenwich Village in New York, N.Y.

“I went there on the second night of the opening. It was only in four theaters in the country. I like Clint Eastwood, and I wanted to see this movie. Frankly it had the best trailer and best TV ads of any movie of the year,” he said. “But when I got there, from the popcorn line to inside the theater, I said, 'Oh my God. Look around, we're in the Village and no one from the Village is here.'" 

Moore said he realized he was watching the film with people predominantly not from the area, and largely from military backgrounds. Moore said he appreciated seeing the film in that context. “I was so happy sitting with this audience because they were very affected by it," he said. "There were tears. People were having a reaction to it.”

Moore said he thinks the movie’s appeal skews toward an audience that doesn’t usually see movies.

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“It just felt like a real ‘Passion of the Christ’ crowd. People who would normally wait for it to go on video or see it on TV but wanted that collective feeling of sitting there with others,” he said.

“The Passion of the Christ,” a film directed by Mel Gibson about the final 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life, grossed a reported $600 million. “American Sniper” stands at almost $250 million after its Super Bowl weekend take. Variety.com calls the figure "an unbelievable result for an adult drama about such hard-hitting topics as war and its psychological effects."

Moore also explained the tweets he made about snipers being cowards, but bristled at the notion that he was walking back his earlier comments.

“I purposely didn't say anything about ‘American Sniper’ in my original tweets. I certainly wrote what I wrote because that weekend there was a lot of talk about snipers because of the movie, but also because it was Martin Luther King weekend and I just found it uncomfortable that something called 'American Sniper,' a film about a sniper, would be released on the weekend where we're honoring a great American who was killed by a sniper,” he said.

Moore also placed some of the blame for the backlash on the constraints of Twitter.

"I think that the reason we're having this conversation too—and I've shared this with nobody else, I've turned down all requests for TV shows—is that the problem with Twitter and why you do need to, we'll use the word 'clarify, is because 140 characters can't really convey things that have enormous depth to them," he said.

Moore, who owns three movie theaters, says he is showing “American Sniper” in one of them because "it's part of the American discussion and people should see it."