It seems the weekend take from Matt Damon’s new Bush-Lied-People-Died Iraq vehicle Green Zone was just $14.5 million. That’s not a particularly good number for Universal Pictures, which budgeted $130 million for production and sunk another $100 million for distribution on top of that.
That’s probably a very optimistic expectation.
The top-grossing film about the modern Middle East was The Kingdom, which was a shoot-em-up action vehicle starring Jamie Foxx that was more patriotic than political. That flick did just under $50 million at the box office. The rest of the gaggle – Syriana, In The Valley Of Elah, Lions For Lambs, Rendition, Stop-Loss and others – did far less. Even this year’s Best Picture award-winner The Hurt Locker, which is much less political than the bulk of the rest, sits at only $26 million, though by the time its numbers are finally tabulated it’s likely to have turned a profit off DVD sales.
Hollywood has lost an absolute fortune on Iraq War movies in the past seven years. Why? A number of reasons, but a primary one largely being that the American people simply don’t trust Hollywood on politics. The American people see Hollywood as a symbol of cultural decay far more than an elite to be emulated – and when dingbats and dopeheads like Lindsey Lohan, Alec Baldwin and Ed Begley, Jr. constantly harangue the public about left-wing politics in between rehab sessions, beating up the help and making sex tapes, the mood of the country toward its entertainment industry increasingly hardens. We’re simply not interested in what they have to say. We know they’re not smarter than we are, we know they’re no more educated than we are and we know they’re no more informed or in touch than we are. And we know they’re in over their heads when they try to tell us about big, real-life issues.
And since so many of the people of this country have family and/or friends engaged in the military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are simply in no mood to listen to their activities being criticized.
So we vote with our feet.
It’s not just Iraq – the fact is, The Hurt Locker is by all indications a perfectly balanced and even vaguely patriotic effort, though it still faces tough sledding among a public poisoned by previous Middle East war movies. Hollywood’s leftism as a whole has fouled a large segment of its market. Even some of the really good films in the last several years turn audiences off – a perfect example was Iron Man, an otherwise great movie which inexplicably wasn’t satisfied with Al Qaeda as villains and had to install above them an American businessman trying to make a buck as the ultimate bad guy. And of course there’s the latest version of this meme, Avatar, which took off-the-wall leftism over a cliff in going out of its way to insult the American private sector and its military. Talk to most people who have seen Avatar and you’ll hear amazement at the cinematography and creativity of its filmmaking, but few find the story a particularly intelligent or relevant one.
The 40 percent of America which is conservative is long past irritated at being preached to by what it sees as degenerate dunces. The 35 percent of the country which is moderate is now generally unimpressed as well. Thus when Hollywood makes “message” films, or even attempts to insert a message into what is supposed to be entertainment, all too often they’re in a position to reach only about 25 percent of the public which is liberal or on the far fringes of the political spectrum with enthusiastic support.
It’s bad business, and it’s symptomatic of an entertainment industry which long ago detached itself from the mainstream. Meanwhile, you have the example of Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, which was an unapologetically traditional Christian film the film establishment laughed itself out of breath at – until the box-office numbers came in and Gibson blew away all expectations – showing that traditional, religious, center-right America will respond when it is presented with films coming from viewpoints with which it can identify. Great examples can be found in Nile Gardiner’s list of the Top 10 conservative films of all time, virtually all of which were smash hits at the box office. In fact, Movieguide.org has done a study indicating that pro-American, pro-capitalist and pro-religious films far outperform lefty movies even despite the box-office success of Avatar.
Ultimately, studio executives can count. Will the debacle of Green Zone finally sober the moviemakers into toning down their politics and focusing on entertainment? Don’t hold your breath. But eventually the market will force its players into compliance – and if Hollywood won’t address this issue, it might eventually lose its grip on the entertainment industry in an increasingly competitive global theater.