Audiences Staying Away From Topical Films

Posted on April 19, 2008

Variety reports that audiences are growing quite tired of topical films, such as those that cover hot-button political issues and the Iraq War.

Filmmakers, mindful that it took more than a decade for Hollywood to effectively tackle the Vietnam War onscreen, were eager to embrace the topicality of Iraq while it was still hot. And both indies and studio speciality divisions jumped in headfirst. In retrospect, it's easy to see why they failed, and why the next round -- yes, there are more on the way -- faces an uphill battle.

First, what was timely at one stage of the Iraq War became more painful as the conflict wore on. The American public grew weary of a 24/7 news cycle that bombarded them with unpleasant war news, so dramas and docs that revealed the war's dark side -- soldiers misbehaving or wounded or victimized -- became most unwelcome.

"People want something cheering and uplifting right now," says press agent Fredell Pogodin. "The economy's bad, and whenever you turn on the news and see this stuff, you feel helpless. People don't know what to make of this situation, and seeing a film about it throws it right back in your face."

Then, a self-perpetuating group-think among the media virtually doomed any movie that was stamped with the toxic Iraq label. As hard as marketers tried to duck and cover, audiences stayed away in droves from one movie after another, from Michael Winterbottom's "A Mighty Heart" to Peter Berg's $70 million Saudi Arabian FBI thriller "The Kingdom."

We enjoyed The Kingdom, although the last scene needed a bigtime edit. But hey, it was Jennifer Garner and Jamie Foxx in an action thriller so that's always good. We think it's too soon to start doing movies about the Iraq War. It's still going on: if we want to read stories about it all we have to do is pick up a newspaper or watch television. It's just too early for all that. We think it's still to early for 9/11 movies: we saw it happen live on TV, after all.

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