“If you make it good, they will come.” That’s what my friend Sarah said about war movies after reading a recent Washington Post article about how poorly the current crop of Iraq war movies are doing at the box office. Sarah is an Army wife and she is not surprised that recent movies about the war in Iraq have not been successful.
In the Post article, Paul Farhi writes “a spate of Iraq-themed movies and TV shows haven't just failed at the box office. They've usually failed spectacularly, despite big stars, big budgets and serious intentions.” Farhi asks, “Are audiences turned off by the war, or are they simply voting against the way filmmakers have depicted it?”
Sarah’s answer is, “Make a movie like 300, and people will flock to the theater. Make the soldiers the freaking good guys, and you've got yourself a hit; make them rapists or dupes or Tools of the Bushitler Oil Junta, and no one wants to see your damn movie.” It’s just about that simple, isn’t it?
There is no shortage of amazing stories of heroics coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. I would love to see a movie about some of those on the Vets for Freedom National Heroes Tour or one about some of the heroes at home like Soldiers’ Angels founder Patti Patton-Bader.
The movies would not need to be jingoistic or simplistic or “rah-rah” to attract an audience. There is plenty of conflict and drama and grit in stories about the current crop of war heroes for the making of a great movie. And there is enough good being done by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere that it would be possible to make an honest and realistic movie about the war that is still positive and uplifting.
Hollywood may not want to make positive movies about our troops’ accomplishments in the war for fear of encouraging young Americans to enlist or they may just be so set in their opinions that they can’t see the incredible accomplishments and feats of heroism our troops have performed. They might not want to call any attention to any positive aspect of “George Bush’s War.” For whatever reason, it has been the trend for quite some time to depict the American military in negative ways. But at the same time, it has been taboo to accurately depict the faces of terrorism. Even following September 11, Arab Muslim terrorists were often replaced in movies and on television with White Supremacists or other groups.
I am generalizing when I say this, but it is largely true that in recent movies the American military is the bad guy and the Middle East Muslim terrorist is either misunderstood or non-existent. Americans are smart enough to understand that and they are smart enough not to buy it.
Those in Hollywood have no trouble making bad movies if there is a market for them. (There are at least eleven Friday the 13th movies to prove it.) When I was growing up it was sometimes hard to find many movies that weren’t rated “R.” I remember wondering if filmmakers added in nude scenes or excessively foul language just so the movie could receive an “R’ rather than a “PG” rating so they could be seen as edgy or serious. There were only a handful of big movies each year made for kids -- most notably by Disney.
Thankfully that changed before I had kids. As a result of the success of blockbuster family movies in recent years, today there is an abundance of “G” and “PG” rated movies appropriate for both adults and kids. The box office success of movies like Shrek proved just how large the audience for family-friendly films is. At the top of the list of highest grossing box offiice films are titles like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, The Incredibles and Night at the Museum.
The Passion of the Christ made the top of the list, as well, proving there is a large audience hungry for movies with traditional Christian themes.
If and when someone decides to make a big budget movie about the heroes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one in which the United States is portrayed as the “good guy,” I predict it will do huge business. American movie fans like stories about war heroes, but so far there has been no Saving Private Ryan set in Iraq or Afghanistan. The stories are out there. They are being told everyday by those in the field. They are being recorded by military bloggers and others attempting to tell the story of the modern American hero. Most of those in the Hollywood community are (to put it mildly) not fans of George W. Bush and many are very strongly opposed to the Iraq War. Evidently hatred of Bush and the war is stronger than even the profit motive in Hollywood.