Sunday, November 11, 2007

War Movies

There has been a spate of recent war movies and they have all tanked at the box office. The most recent one, Lions for Lambs, opened at number 4 with around $6.7 million despite big names like Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Robert Redford who also directed.

There has been a lot of speculation about this. Is it because Iraq (and Afghanistan) are too fresh? Is it because these are really political movies about the war? Is it because these movies amount to anti-American rants from spoiled Hollywood celebrities?

All of these are undoubtedly factors but they overlook the performance of war movies in general over the last few years. Last night I watched Valiant, a British CGI movie about carrier pigeons during WWII. It was not a great movie but it was entertaining and child-friendly. It did very poor business in the US. A bit over a year ago Fly Boys was released. This was a traditional war movie about WWI fliers. It was really good but it spun out at the box office.

In he Summer of 2005 The Great Raid was released. It was a movie about the rescue of POWs during WWII. This didn't make any money, either. (Side note - the last surviving combat veteran from WWII was one of those rescued in the real-life event.)

My conclusion is that war movies just aren't very popular right now.

There are different types of war movies. The original ones were retelling battles from WWII. During WWII they were meant to inspire the audience to help with the war effort and to make them feel more in touch with
the war itself. After WWII ended there was a big market for any movie with a war tie-in. After all, a huge portion of the population had served in the war. Those who were not veterans were likely related to a vet. It was the shared experience of a generation.

A much smaller portion of the population went to Viet Nam. Between that and the war's unpopularity there were few war movies about Viet Nam until the war was over. These were mainly anti-war movies.

The conflicts in-between have been too short and too limited to count as a generational defining point. I doubt that most people even remember the invasion of Grenada. The same is true for the first Gulf War - it happened fast with little American sacrifice.

Today it is impossible to imagine a pro-Iraq war being made. Hollywood hates the war and the president so all that comes out is anti-war. Even that doesn't seem to be any good so there is nothing to attract audiences. At the same time, most people are against the war according to polls but they don't feel strongly enough to take to the streets. Recent protests keep getting smaller and smaller. That doesn't leave much of an audience for bad anti-war movies.

Happy Veterans' Day.

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