A few weekends ago, the latest Iraq war-themed movie to hit American screens bombed. Stop-loss, MTV Films’ first anti-war film and featuring Ryan Phillipe, Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon Levitt as well as other rising stars had received ok-ish reviews, and was up against some shockers (21, Horton hears a who!, Superhero Movie). Yet it only scraped through with about $4 million in ticket sales on its opening weekend.
It’s the latest in a long line of War on Terror and Iraq war-related movie flops; predecessors include Robert Redford’s Lions before lambs, Paul Haggis’s In the valley of Elah and, lastly, Rendition.
A source on Nikki Finke’s Hollywood blog is quoted as saying:
“No one wants to see Iraq war movies. No matter what we put out there in terms of great cast or trailers, people were completely turned off. It’s a function of the marketplace not being ready to address this conflict in a dramatic way because the war itself is something that’s unresolved yet. It’s a shame because it’s a good movie that’s just ahead of its time.”
But are American audiences ignoring Iraq-themed movies because the conflict is “unresolved”, as the source puts it, or because US geopolitics in the Middle East has been nothing short of a disaster?
Perhaps many Americans would rather not confront the moral questions that face the US. Questions that involve looking beyond blind, knee-jerk patriotism to the stark reality that the “Syriana” project (essentially a bid to bring democracy and order to the Mid-East through hostile intervention) launched by Neocons in the days following 9-11 has been a dismal failure.
Iraq is in ruptured chaos and despite a slight improvement since the troop “surge”, the country is still in a virtual civil war. Over four thousand American soldiers have died in Iraq, and the civilian body count is multiples of that figure.
Far from bringing order and democracy to the Middle East, America’s adventures in the sand has only exacerbated the region’s tinderbox volatility.
And for once, the world’s superpower can’t quite figure out how to sort it out. A nerve-wracking thing to be reminded of. Your dominance in jeopardy and doubts being cast on the righteousness of the cause.
No wonder more people opted for Superhero Movie.