Iraq war films struggle at box office

Doug Krizner Apr 4, 2008


Doug Krizner: We recently marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Hollywood has taken on this subject, but several high-profile war films have failed at the box office. There are more Iraq war movies in the pipeline. The question is, will there be an audience?

Let’s bring in Mike Speier of Variety. Mike, is the problem with these films more subject rather than marketing?

Mike Speier: It’s a combination of both, but you have to remember that in the history of film, movies like Platoon, movies like Bridge On The River Kwai, those are giant movies that have to do with war. They’re huge studio productions with stars. The fact that these Iraq war movies, like Stop-Loss, like In The Valley Of Elah, like Rendition last year — these are just not big movies, they’re intimate stories that are dramas, and dramas don’t do well at the box office usually anyway.

Krizner: Were they well-made films? Did they get critical acclaim?

Speier: Stop-Loss is probably the perfect example — small critical acclaim, but too small to matter to the average person who can see things going on in Iraq by turning on CNN and MSNBC every night.

Krizner: Give me a sense about the appetite for risk right now in Hollywood in terms of subject matter. Do producers feel as if though they have room to go out on a limb?

Speier: Risk is alway sa funny thing, because you’ll get both ends of the spectrum. On the one hand, there’s a big company like Disney, who’s made it clear that they’re reducing the amount of movies they’re making and they’re only sticking with huge franchise films — bring in millions of people, make the shareholders happy, make Pirates of the Caribbean over and over and over and over again — and as a business, why wouldn’t they? Then, there’s the studios that have independent divisions, and they continue to make risks. They’re certainly unique films, they’re interesting. Last year, we had something like Juno, a very small movie about a pregnant teenager. Who thought that would do anything? That ended up being one of the biggest hits in the year.

Krizner: Back to the war films. Could it be that it’s too immediate a subject to really be ready for the pipeline in Hollywood?

Speier: I’ll venture to say that the public has so many choices when it comes to things that make them feel good, what would most people want to see if it’s an escapist entertainment thing?

Krizner: Mike Speier is managing editor for Variety here in LA. Mike, always a pleasure.

Speier: Thank you.

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