Eric D. Snider

War Is Hell (at the Box Office)

Snide Remarks #567

"War Is Hell (at the Box Office)"

by Eric D. Snider

Published on December 17, 2007

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A huge number of war-related films have come out in 2007, and the public's response has been resounding: We do not wish to see war-related films.

Actually, I should be more specific. It is only films about Iraq and the War on Terror that the public does not want to see. The public is more than happy to see films about wars involving giant space robots that turn into cars. "In fact, we'd like more of those movies!" is an exact quote from the public.

But when it comes to movies about Iraq, Afghanistan, and terrorism, the bombs have been bursting in theaters. "In the Valley of Elah," "Lions for Lambs," "A Mighty Heart," "No End in Sight," and "Rendition" all tanked, none of them grossing more than $14 million. "The Kingdom" did better ($48 million), but it was oriented more toward solving crimes and blowing things up than ruminating on the war. It even had tanks, which meant there was a slight chance one of them could turn into a giant space robot.

The conservative commentators who dominate talk radio and the cable news networks have offered a very simple explanation for all these war movies flopping: The American public is tired of liberal Hollywood pushing its anti-war, anti-Bush agenda. But there are two problems with that explanation. One, not all of the movies are actually anti-war and anti-Bush; two, even if they were, at this point so are most Americans. You'd think they'd be flocking to see movies that express opinions they agree with.

It's all very frustrating for filmmakers, and so I started thinking. I'm very interested in becoming a Hollywood tycoon. How can I make a movie about the war in Iraq that millions of moviegoers would pay to see? Here's what I decided my movie will need.

1. A happy ending. The problem with all the Iraq movies is that they're such downers. "It's going so poorly!" "It's destroying our young men and women!" "It's a never-ending quagmire that has diminished America's standing in the eyes of the world and will ultimately cost us trillions of dollars while essential programs here at home remain underfunded!" Blah blah blah. My Iraq movie will have troops restoring law and order to the streets of Baghdad, and it will end with Osama bin Laden exploding after a live grenade is shoved down his throat by a soldier wearing an Uncle Sam costume. The soldier will be played by Jack Bauer.

2. No politics. Holy crap, nothing bores an audience faster than longwinded conversations about politics. In my Iraq movie, there will be no scenes set in Washington, D.C. A couple of politicians will show up in Baghdad to see what's going on, but they will immediately be taken out by snipers. It doesn't even matter whose side the snipers are on. The important thing is that there will be no discussion of exit strategies, moral imperatives, or hearts and minds.

3. Giant space robots that turn into cars. This is easy. I'll have our military's tanks turn into giant robots, and the insurgents' guns will also turn into robots, and then the robots will punch each other and deliver a lot of clever one-liners on the order of "I've got you between Iraq and a hard place!" It is conceivable that one of the robots will be a lady robot with enormous breasts and the voice of Angelina Jolie, but only if we can integrate it seamlessly into the story without seeming forced.

4. Oh, and pirates.

5. A simplified version of the issues. Another problem with the Iraq situation is that it's kind of hard to follow. For one thing, did you know that there are two kinds of Muslims? There totally are! After all these years of hearing on talk radio that we're just supposed to hate and/or fear "Muslims" in general, now it turns out there are different kinds! And who are these "insurgents" we keep hearing about, and what made them hate us so much? Ugh, so many questions, and the answers are complicated, often involving foreign words. So in my movie, it will be simplified: Our guys will shoot anyone who speaks Arabic.

I anticipate this film grossing $300 million domestic, more if I succeed in getting Michael Bay to "direct" it (Directors Guild of America bylaws stipulate the quotation marks when referring to Michael Bay's work). I'm pretty sure Nickelback is already on board for the soundtrack, and I've got Ian McKellen to provide the voice of one of the giant robots. Watch for it in summer 2009 -- unless the war is over by then, but I'm not too concerned about that.

Stumble It!

Notes:

This column contains elements of two different pieces that I wrote for Film.com that were never used. One was a more or less non-comedic analysis of why most war movies have failed at the box office this year; the other was the more satiric "how to make an Iraq film that people will see" concept. Eventually my editor, despite having assigned me the topic in the first place, decided the whole thing was too politically perilous for our readers, who come to Film.com for film commentary and not politics. Not that I'm complaining: I still got paid for it, and I get to repurpose it here. Everybody wins!

If you're interested, here's what I said about why the war movies have failed:

To figure out why five of these movies bombed, we have to look at the one that succeeded -- "The Kingdom." It has big stars (Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner), and it's action-oriented. But more importantly, its story emphasizes the things about America that many of us admire. Terrorists attack a U.S. compound in Saudi Arabia, and we immediately respond by sending our top professionals, C.S.I.-ing the evidence, finding the bad guys, and making them pay. It's what America has traditionally done very well.

Granted, the movie ends by making the point that fighting violence with violence will probably just lead to more violence. But it's easy to overlook that, especially if you're enjoying the feel-good moment of seeing good kill evil. Consider the way audiences reacted to "The Brave One," cheering at the climax even though the film had made it overwhelmingly clear that getting revenge would be a bad thing for Jodie Foster. Who cares about the message when there are bullets being fired into bad guys!

This suggests to me that while most Americans may be fed up with Bush and the war, they don't necessarily want to see movies that echo those sentiments. They want escapism. They want movies where Bush-ish cowboy maneuvers save the day, where America's strength and determination win out. They want to believe that America can sweep in and solve any problem, nobly and with integrity.

During the Depression, people didn't flock to movies about poor people. They ate up glossy musicals set in a parallel universe where nobody had money problems. The same attitude holds today. After all, who do you think defeated those giant space robots? America, that's who.

The day this ran, I got an e-mail from someone named Andy, calling himself a "former subscriber," who had this to say:

Sorry Eric,

Not intrested in your politics. One too many "I've got serious things to say" pieces. I just can't take geo-politics from a guy who piles on teenage girls who like hor-sees.

Also, IT'S NOT WHY I COME TO A HUMOR-MOVE REVIEW WEB SITE.

Peace out, Craker


I assume he's referring to the incident of Amber the Horse Girl.

I don't know if he's calling me a cracker (or "craker"?), or if he's signing his own name there. If it were the latter, "Craker"? would probably be on the next line, not the same line as the "Peace out." Then again, maybe all bets are off when dealing with someone who calls you (or himself) "Craker."

As always in these cases, "I don't come here to read your politics" probably means "I don't agree with your politics." Which is totally fine. Can we agree on Amber the Horse Girl, though? That was some funny shiz.

This item has 33 comments

  1. Karmacoma says:

    I'm in no way trying to turn this into a "serious" discussion, but there are far more than two types of Muslims. But I guess you already knew that, and now I just feel silly for posting... :(

  2. Eric's Brother Chris says:

    I think the reason these movies are bombing right now is simple: these types of war-related movies at this point in time are just a lose-lose. Most people would fit one of two categories: a huge part of the population doesn't want to go watch a movie that mostly or at least partially blames America or portrays us in a bad light, whether they like Bush or not. Anti-Bush is one thing, but Anti-America is far different. And for those in the population who not only hate Bush, but for whom that sentiment actually overrides their love for their country and causes them to put politics first (cough...Sean Penn...cough...Harry Reid...cough), well, seeing certain movies would only get them more pissed about the current situation. So there really isn't much of an audience for that either way right now.

    Incidentally, while most of the population isn't happy with the Iraq war in general right now, most of us aren't in favor of just pulling out, either. If the get-out-immediately sentiment was as strong as some try to say, congress would have made it happen already. The majority of people don't want to see their country lose or cut-and-run, regardless of their politics or whether or not they think we should have gone in in the first place. We're here now, so let's win.

    Oh, and don't forget my presents when you come down this week, Eric, or you may find yourself unwittingly playing crotchball in your sleep.

  3. sam says:

    nice one - great column.

    But holy bageezus turn off that snapshots crap. Has anyone ever had one of those snapshots previews pop up and said to themselves "geez, that sure is handy!"

    No, not one person ever in the entire history of the universe and all time has ever thought those stupid neo-pop ups were a good idea or helped in any way. They are more likely to think "gee why is this big stupid window blocking all this text I am trying to read?" or "Why can't I use this link like any other regular link that I've used on the web for the past 80 years? Why do I have to conform to it's stupid rules of opening in my same tab/window unless I can get lucky because sometimes it links to some random pixel image hosted somewhere and sometimes it actually goes to the correct site when I try to do anything but click on it which is stupid for the already stated reason that maybe I don't want to open it in the same window because I'm still reading this page."

    As I was writing this I noticed that there is an option to turn off snapshots, but anyone who hates it enough to turn it off surely isn't going to go clicking around trying to see if there is an off button somewhere. It's a flawed design.

    Anyway, that was a long rant about a really insignificant thing - maybe I'll end up in angry letters any you can make fun of my long run on sentence up there and doubtless numerous spelling/logic/grammar errors. Thing is - I see this crap more and more and it's like a virus spreading around the web. I feel it is my personal responsibility to scream and shout at people until they get rid of it.

    Great column though, really.

    wow I'm bored.

  4. Eric's Friend says:

    While I feel your column is well written and has many good points, I was quite bored reading it. I'm used to reading "interesting" humor. I must admit that not everything can be turned into something hilarious, especially the war in Iraq. But if you're getting paid to write on the topic, I guess you do the best you can.

    As for your movie, perhaps using Luke Bushwalker and Darth bin Laden as the two main characters may help you gross more than $500 million.

  5. Savvy Veteran says:

    "The soldier will be played by Jack Bauer" was a very funny line.

    I agree about the snapshots though. I hate them.

  6. Utah SEO says:

    "Escapism" is truly what it's all about. During stressful times people want to see movies that represent what's going on, only simplified (good vs. evil, black and white, bad vs. good and nobody in between), and with characters that don't make it obvious that they refer to current events. Take Star Wars (ha! I almost accidentally typed in "Star Wards" which would also probably be a good movie) for example, you really have to look deep in order to understand that Darth Vader represents Richard Nixon, Luke Skywalker is really Jimmy Carter, Han Solo is actually based on the real-life exploits of Harrison Ford as perceived by George Lucas while high, and of course all us Mormon types know who Yoda is.

    Maybe if it were the 70s again and we could get George drunk (not that us Mormon types would do or condone such a thing..except maybe for Porter Rockwell if he were alive) maybe he could come up with something that speaks to our collective subconscious desires without blatantly shoving a political message of some sort down our throats. All I want is guys wearing black vs. guys wearing white, and maybe some of the guys in black wearing white (but only if they look like skeletons) once in a while and the guys in white wearing brown sometimes, just to make it interesting, and lots of lasers. Is that too much to ask?

  7. Kyralessa says:

    I can offer an even simpler explanation:

    I go to the movies to be entertained.

    If I want to ruminate on serious issues, I go to my public library and check out a book for free.

    If I'm forking over $8.75-per-ticket, I'm not the slightest bit interested in watching some moody "here's the latest crappy thing our country is responsible for " flick. I can get that in the news (for free) or in books (for free). If I'm spending seventeen dollars and fifty cents to take my wife out to a movie, it had better be entertaining.

  8. Bismarck says:

    I just want you to know--I would totally go see that movie.

  9. shrff says:

    Instead of referring to our president's cowboy maneuvers as "Bush-ish", might we refer to them as "Bushy"? I'm just sayin'...

  10. Ezra says:

    I like the snapshots.

  11. wiisomethingorother says:

    Dude, you HAVE to make this movie!

  12. memikeyounot says:

    What are snapshots? I thought I was fairly computer savvy, but feel like I must be missing out on something.

    On the other hand, if you are talking about AD popups, and are not using the Firefox browser with AdBlock Plus, then you can't complain.

  13. Tony says:

    I agree with Kyralessa.

    Movies are entertainment. I wouldn't pay to see a movie that blames me or "my country" for anything. I finished school years ago, I don't need to be lectured anymore. Especially not by a movie star. Their only stake in a movie like this is getting that next seven or eight digit paycheck. Anyone who believes these actors when they mope around about 'The War' or 'Darfur' or whatever else has to remember... these guys are ACTORS. They get paid to make believe in front of a camera.

    I only hope that this recent failure on Hollywood's part gets them to clue in collectively, even if it only lasts a couple years... we just don't need our movie store shelves to be populated with any more social commentary type movies.

    Sure, once in a while someone makes a depressing biographical or historical movie that somehow hits the mainstream, but usually only if there's less plot and more explosions (like Eric points out) or at least an abundance of exposed breasts.

  14. Brian says:

    "It even had tanks, which meant there was a slight chance one of them could turn into a giant space robot."

    -heh

  15. Kyle M. says:

    I like war movies...sometimes I even like "issue" movies (no Syriana, I'm not looking at you). But dude, you gotta pick a better title for your movie than "Rendition" or "A Mighty Heart." Seriously, you spend millions on a movie, go to all the trouble of getting Angelina Jolie to not destroy a foreign accent, and then you call the project "A Might Heart"? That's right up there with "National Treasure: Book of Secrets."

    Also, a healthy infusion of giant space robots can only help the genre.

  16. Greg says:

    Oh man, the Michael Bay part is so awesome.

  17. sam says:

    @memikeyounot: Mouse over the link to films.com in the commentary section. Adblock might already block this junk...

    Telling people to use firefox and install the adblock plugin is like putting one of those little baby band-aids over a cancerous pussing sore covering your entire face.

    Besides, using ad-block is like using anti-bacterial soap: It's just going to force the bugs to evolve and become even more dangerous/annoying.

    The web is free because of advertising.

  18. Turkey says:

    Wait, "Kyralessa" is a man? Weird.

  19. David Manning says:

    I got rid of the snapshots (or whatever they're called) the day I learned how. It feels like that was years ago, though. Once they're gone, you forget they ever made you suffer.

  20. tony says:

    Sam,

    I think you're confused. The web isn't free (I mean, I pay monthly for internet ... don't know about you), which is why we like to block things like ads.

    And it sounds to me like you're saying anti-bacterial soap is bad... which makes me hope you don't work in the food service industry, cause ewww.

  21. Momma Snider says:

    I think you should make a movie about you and Chris inadvertently playing crotchball in your sleep.

  22. The UnMighty says:

    You're right, movies are for entertainment and that's why in your movie there should still be two kinds of Muslims - Bad ones, and Dead ones.

  23. Chuckwagon Breakfast says:

    Luke Bushwalker and Darth Bin Laden (I'm going to avoid the jokes about who's the good guy/bad guy). Brilliant names... George Lucas will be by shortly to steal them for his next blockbuster Star Wars VII The Empire Will Rise Again starring Natalie Portman in a brass bikini and Mark Hamil with a cane.

  24. Auntie KareNin says:

    To #15 Kyle M: Maybe it didn't show much originality, but "A Mighty Heart" was, according to IMDB, 'Based on the memoir "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life & Death of My Husband Danny Pearl" by Mariane Pearl.'

    So, you know, blame the lady whose husband was beheaded, rather than the studio, if you think the title lacked pizazz.

  25. thejoeinme says:

    I second Momma Snider's idea. Get Harvey Weinstein on the phone, he'll want to fast-track this one...

  26. Deb says:

    "I've got you between Iraq and a hard place" and "oh, and pirates" LOL
    Good stuff.
    (I thought Dragon Wars would do well -- no I haven't seen it -- because I understand it has tanks, things blowing up, dragons!, etc and no plot. Maybe no plot is a problem.)

    I agree--Movies should = ENTERTAINMENT. ESCAPISM. RELAXATION. Not soapboxing moralifying nail-biting blood and gore (or Gore) blah blah blah.

  27. Kyralessa says:

    What's so weird about it? Lots of people are men.

  28. Jessica says:

    Actually, Kyralessa, men are not people.

  29. Monkey says:

    I think you're confused. The web isn't free (I mean, I pay monthly for internet ... don't know about you), which is why we like to block things like ads.

    I think you're confused a bit there. You pay for Internet access, but the content on the Internet, with few exceptions (movies, porno or otherwise, mostly) is posted on there for free. The main source of revenue is ads and donations.

  30. walton says:

    Robots and Pirates is a maddox thing man! Why not have lo-pan from big trouble in little china play osoma who will be eating babies or something to show his true evilness. Then have ash from evil dead play the uncle sam worshiping soldier that spikes his head of the ground. PS i dont get any pop ups when entering this site.

  31. John Doe says:

    "Watch for it in summer 2009 -- unless the war is over by then, but I'm not too concerned about that."

    It seems funny to mean that people don't realize the public doesn't like movies about a current war. People don't object to movies about events after they are over and we can objectively dissect them. I bet if these movies were made after the situation in Iraq was over, they'd be much more acceptable to society.

    Otherwise, I love how Eric mocks transformers. That is one movie that deserved to flop.

  32. arabic-speaking muslim says:

    nice article but i'm a arabic speaking muslim, so......

  33. Nelson says:

    #32, continue that thought. I have no idea what you are getting at.

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