This weekend sees the release of Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss, about a soldier who returns from a grueling tour of duty in Iraq only to learn that he's being sent back for another one. The movie's not bad: very passionate, very angry, a bit didactic, and liberal to the core. (See our own Eric D. Snider's SXSW review here.) The "liberal" part is no surprise, at least not if you've been listening to the conservative pundits who have torn into Hollywood for what they see as anti-war propaganda masquerading as entertainment. Those same pundits like to gloat about Iraq War movies' perceived financial failure, holding up their box-office receipts as proof that the American people either aren't interested or aren't on the same page.
But have the Iraq War movies we've seen in the past couple of years actually performed all that poorly? And even if they have, does that have anything to do with public distaste for liberal Hollywood or its "propaganda"? Take a look at some numbers and share your thoughts after the jump.
Here are the final box-office takes for some of the recent Iraq- and Middle East-themed efforts:
In the Valley of Elah (2007) - $6.8 million.
Redacted (2007) - $.06 million.
The Kingdom (2007) - $47.4 million.
Rendition (2007) - $9.7 million.
Lions for Lambs (2007) - $15 million.
Home of the Brave (2006) - $.04 million.
Okay, so yeah -- Home of the Brave was a bomb. And the $60,000 tally sure doesn't look good for Brian De Palma's Redacted, a particular target of Bill O'Reilly's hectoring. But think about it: how do you market a movie about the rape of an Iraqi girl by American soldiers? A movie that basically sets out to lecture, shame and outrage the audience? Maybe it could have fared a little bit better, but I don't think it was ever going to be any sort of hit. The vast majority of moviegoers simply don't go to the movies to see what Redacted had to offer, regardless of whether its message was liberal, conservative, communist or neutral.
On the other hand, The Kingdom scored a minor victory despite an ending that seemed to put terrorism and American foreign policy on the same moral plane. I suspect that's because it had not only movie stars but action, and shooting, and things blowing up. Universal was even able to pitch it as a murder mystery of sorts. By the same token, Lions for Lambs wasn't exactly a phenomenon, but I think it did okay for a movie that consisted almost entirely of people sitting around in offices debating public policy.
There's nothing special, in other words, about the Iraq War as a subject. Looks to me like audiences have pretty much behaved like they normally do. Most of these movies are freakin' depressing. And depressing movies are often a hard sell.
But riddle me this, Cinematical readers: are you among the hundreds of millions of Americans who avoid Iraq War movies like the plague? And if so, why?