Will the soldiers on horseback deliver the green-backs?
This weekend saw the release of “12 Strong”, starring Chris Hemsworth and Michael Pena. Based on the true-life book “Horse Soldiers”, this is set in Afghanistan and displays the heroic efforts of Green Berets in the Middle East. At his website writer Christian Toto noted that conservatives should be out supporting this film, for valid reasons.
The film should be red meat to conservatives. It’s patriotic and lacks the kind of pearl clutching seen in some war movies. The Taliban is depicted in the cruelest way possible, reflecting the truth behind the barbaric group. It’s also apolitical to the core.
In an industry that is frequently open in its hostility to conservative and patriotic principles this type of film is uncommon in depicting valor. The movie debuted as the number two top grossing film, earning close to $16 million over the weekend. While not burning down the box office it was a respectable opening, made more so by the fact that in the years since 9/11 Hollywood seemed intent on telling us how bad the war effort was, in its collective estimation.
Roughly about ten years back the movies that came out about the Gulf War were all uniformly (forgive the Army pun) negative in their portrayal of the conflict. They all shared something else in common: they were box office disasters. As much as it appeared Hollywood was insisting upon a groundswell of war opposition the audiences did not seem to back them up on this effort.
“Redacted”. “Lions for Lambs”. “In The Valley of Elah”. “Rendition”. These titles were rolled out in almost assembly line fashion. All failed to even break the $20 million plateau. Probaby the most notable of this category was “The Hurt Locker”. Hollywood seemed intent to find one of these films to laud and parade before the nation, and so it bestowed the Best Picture honor on this title at the Academy Awards. That film holds the record for the lowest grossing Oscar winner, earning only $17 million in its entire run.
That “12 Strong” essentially bested all of these titles in its opening weekend is no longer a news event. What is surprising is that Hollywood did something unique regarding this genre of movies; it learned a lesson. While the liberal mindset is a tough one to overcome in Dream Land one thing studios are quick to do is jump on a trend that appears to be profitable. In the case of contemporary war films they did so even when going against their political leanings.
In 2012 the studio Relativity obtained the rights to “Act Of Valor”, a title that had been initially conceived as a recruitment film. Shot cheaply, and using real life Navy SEALS in the roles, the movie was released in the early weeks of the year. (The Jan-Feb months are reserved for awards hopefuls, or problem titles that are being dumped with little hope for success.) The film opened as the number one title with a $25 million bow. Some executives raised an eyebrow.
That December Sony debuted “Zero Dark Thirty”, the dramatization of the killing of Osama Bin Laden (made by the director of “Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow) in a handful of theaters to qualify for awards consideration. It had its standard wide release on January 11, and the film went on to gross close to $100 million. Hollywood now took notice. It appeared that these blatantly pro-military — and by extension pro-American — films were finding an audience in this soft segment of the schedule.
Now consistently for the past few years we have seen war-themed movies with a positive viewpoint given a wide release in this part of the calendar. “Lone Survivor”, starring Mark Wahlberg in 2013 drew over $100 million. Last year Michael Bay directed the Benghazi event as displayed in “13 Hours”, and the monster hit “American Sniper” also played in this frame in 2015.
“12 Strong” may not end up high on that list in total box office, but already it has drawn better than most of the anti-war agitprop dramas the studios attempted to foist on audiences. As Christian Toto notes, if conservatives complain they are not represented enough in Hollywood they should support films like this one. The surprising thing is how Hollywood has responded; they have curtailed the lectures and, as long as the profits are there, appear to actually be willing to give audiences what they want.