(AFP) – Nov 9, 2007
LOS ANGELES (AFP) — The wave of recent films set against the backdrop of war in Iraq and post-9/11 security has failed to win over film-goers keen to escape grim news headlines when they go to the movies, analysts say.
In a break with past convention, when films based on real conflicts were made only years after the last shots were fired, several politically-charged films have gone on release while America remains embroiled in Iraq.
Almost without exception, however, the crop of movies have struggled to turn a profit at the box-office and in many cases have received a mauling from unimpressed critics as well.
"Rendition," a drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jake Gyllenhaal about the CIA's policy of outsourcing interrogation of terror suspects, has taken just under 10 million dollars at the box office, a disastrous return.
Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis's latest film "In the Valley of Elah," about a father investigating the death of his son in Iraq, earned favorable reviews but less than seven million dollars following its release in September.
Even the action-packed "The Kingdom," starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, fell well below its 70 million budget with around 47 million dollars in ticket sales.
The poor returns do not augur well for more war films due for release in North America later this month, notably the Robert Redford-directed drama "Lions for Lambs" and Brian De Palma's hard-hitting "Redacted," based on the real-life rape and murder of an Iraqi schoolgirl by US soldiers.
Lew Harris, the editor of website Movies.com, said the films have struggled to be successful because the subject matters of Iraq and 9/11 remain too close to home. And in many cases, the films have not been entertaining enough.
"These movies have to be entertaining," Harris told AFP. "You can't just take a movie and make it anti-war or anti-torture and expect to draw people in.
"That's what happened with 'Rendition' and it has been a disaster," he said.
"People want war movies to have a slam-bang adventure feel to them ... But Iraq is a difficult war to portray in a kind of rah-rah-rah, exciting way.
"And it's just too close to home. The Vietnam war movies didn't start until long after the war was over.
"But here for the first time you're seeing things that you're reading about in the newspaper or seeing on television in movie theatres. I'm not sure that's something that people want. A lot of people go to the movies to escape."
According to Gitesh Pandya, an analyst with website boxofficeguru.com, cinema-goers were unenthusiastic about spending money for movies about subjects they see on television at no cost.
"I just think it's something that people are not willing to pay top dollar to see, especially when we get so much coverage at home for free," Pandya told AFP. "At the end of the day it's not content people are willing to pay for."
Pandya said the subject matter of the films also made them particularly vulnerable to poor reviews.
"Older-skewing films are affected by reviews a lot more than a movie aimed at teenagers. It's possible for a teen movie with horrible reviews to be a commercial success; but for films targeting an older audience, the reviews can make or break them," he added. "And the reviews for these films have not been great."
Veteran television producer Steven Bochco, whose 2005 television series "Over There" about a platoon of soldiers fighting in Iraq ended after just one season, said it was hard to engage audiences in a "hugely unpopular war."
"TV is fully saturated with this war and I don't know if you can do a serious drama about this war and locate any angle that would overcome the negativity about it," he told the New York daily Newsday.
Iraq films remain a difficult sell for audiences because of the swirl of confusion surrounding the rights and wrongs of the conflict, he added.
"World War II was hugely romanticized in terms of its fiction. There were unambiguous villains, and the feeling we were fighting the right people over the right issues, as opposed to this war, which many people feel is misguided.
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