When the theater box office numbers are released later this week, Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” will lead the way for the second weekend in a row. The flick features Harry Styles of boy band fame and has grossed $102 million to date.
“Dunkirk” still has a way to go to reach the rarified air of this year’s top-grossing movies, including the remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Wonder Woman” and “Despicable Me 3.” However, it is still something we don’t see Hollywood try anymore, which is to put out a big budget film that glorifies the men and women who served in the armed forces.
It is not as if “Dunkirk” is a glorious tale of an imperialist western army imposing its will on an enemy power, like John Wayne taking on the Japanese on a Pacific island, or Sylvester Stallone as Rambo defeating a Cold War enemy.
No (spoiler alert), it is about the British successfully evacuating their soldiers in retreat from France across the English Channel as German forces bore down on them.
The moral of that tale is that even in a situation Prime Minister Winston Churchill described at the time as “a colossal military disaster,” there were acts of heroism worthy of recognition.
For a lot of younger Americans, the concept of valor in a wartime setting is somewhat foreign because it is not widespread in our popular culture. Instead, the protagonists in modern American films are comic book superheroes and professional street racers.
Why aren’t bad-ass U.S. Army commandos, hot-shot fighter jet pilots or stoic U.S. Navy commanders making the cut any more in Hollywood?
Politics are a likely possibility.
You cannot deny the liberal politics of Hollywood. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks donations to political candidates, $22 million in donations from those identified as being in the “entertainment” industry went to pro-Hillary Clinton super PACs versus less than $290,000 to similar organizations for Donald Trump.
Those with left-leaning sensibilities tend to view movies such as “Patton,” “The Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Top Gun” as jingoistic and glorifying American military efforts. But in their view, war endeavors shouldn’t be depicted positively. War should be discouraged.
Now, a lot of the war cinematography shows the horrors and the struggles of war. Sometimes that war is a product of the desires of some greedy business interest like big oil or defense contractors.
Fair enough; war is an ugly thing.
But where the entertainment industry is doing a disservice in not portraying the military in a heroic manner is it fails to recognize the world is still a hostile place, and the country still needs a strong defense to protect our shores.
Our last few generations haven’t had to endure the horrors of a full-scale American war. Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers had to fight and live through World War II and their fathers World War I. A couple of generations before that, there was the Civil War.
The biggest war-type tragedy for many now was the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Nearly 3,000 people died that day. Compare that to the 1944 D-Day invasion of World War II with 4,414 confirmed dead on the Allies’ side — and that was just one day.
Albeit ugly and unpleasant, the outcomes of these conflicts have given us the society we have today, which is arguably a pretty decent one — if held in comparison to all of those throughout the thousands of years of human civilization.
Granted, in the age of nuclear weapons, a full-scale war in 2017 has the potential of looking more like the closing scenes of “Dr. Strangelove,” with mushroom clouds filling the landscape and the end of human civilization as we know it. However, if we step back from that extreme, our pop culture doesn’t even seem to be equipped to handle a slapstick comedy depicting the assassination of a cruel, menacing dictator.
Seth Rogan and James Franco starred in 2014’s “The Interview,” a movie in which North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is killed. Sony was forced to delay that movie’s release so it could be edited to cut out parts with which the North Korean government objected.
Nearly three years later, that same North Korean government is now test-firing ICBMs to show it potentially can deliver a missile strike on the U.S.
For the time being, it appears unlikely Hollywood will have the stomach to put out an epic pro-American war movie. There does seem to be an appetite for these films. The problem is that those who run Hollywood have a monopoly on big-budget films.
No upstart studio is going to pull off creating the next pro-military blockbuster chock-full of CGI effects to be shown on the massive IMAX screen at your local cineplex.
Until the market for patriotic movies is acknowledged, I wouldn’t expect the entertainment industry to put aside its political biases and start churning out films celebrating the masculine heroics of war.
For the time being, we’re stuck with Batman, Wonder Woman and Wolverine teaming up to stop the evil corporation and its global-warming machine in a souped-up, turbocharged Mitsubishi Eclipse headed down the 405 in Los Angeles. That’s what Hollywood is serving up to moviegoers these days.