Will Hollywood drag its feet, again, or can the industry learn from these high-profile duds?
The year 2007 proved a watershed moment for anti-war films.
Audiences saw “In the Valley of Elah,” “Grace Is Gone,” “Redacted,” “Rendition” and “Lions for Lambs.” Or, rather, audiences had the potential to see them but opted against it.
The films all bombed at the box office.
Those films cast the U.S. military, and/or current American wars, in an unflattering light. Hollywood didn’t suddenly turn on the men and women who lay their lives on the line for their country. The industry despised President George W. Bush and the Iraq War he asked Congress to approve.
Studios wanted to send a message.
It took time, but Hollywood finally realized similarly themed films would flop, too. That came after “Stop-Loss” (2008) and “Green Zone” (2010) also failed to draw crowds.
Something similar is happening on the woke comedy front today.
This year isn’t half over yet, but we’ve already seen three comedies brimming with social justice posturing.
- “Long Shot” resembles a standard rom-com, but the love story repeatedly pauses for progressive bromides.
- “Booksmart” riffs on the “Superbad” formula, but with female students sharing feminist talking points and empowerment mantras.
- “Late Night” stars Mindy Kaling as a Millennial trying to crack the all-male writing team for a talk show legend. Her character rails against the “patriarchy” and demands diversity … or else.
“Long Shot” under-performed with a $30 million haul. “Booksmart” fared worse, managing a measly $19 million to date. “Late Night’s opening weekend proved dismal, too, with a $5.1 million haul.
See a pattern here?
Each film earned strong reviews. Two of the three featured recognizable stars, including an Oscar winner (Charlize Theron in “Long Shot”). The latter film enjoyed a sizable promotional push.
They all fizzled, financially speaking. Yet their failures won’t change Hollywood, at least not yet. The industry didn’t connect the commercial dots on the anti-war films of the 2000s. Eventually, even a neophyte studio head understood the movie-going public had no appetite for these themes.
Conservative scribes knew that right away, of course.
Hollywood web sites also do the industry a disservice. They won’t share that the movies’ woke natures helped sink their box office ships. Several “think pieces” exploring why “Booksmart” failed mentioned a number of possible factors. The movie’s hard-left messaging, however, doesn’t come up.
How did they miss it?
Most entertainment and news sites lack right-of-center scribes, the very people who might have spotted the problem in the first place. Still, there’s hope that the woke comedy movement may give way to something more subversive, even riotous.
Hollywood eventually reversed course on the anti-war film front. We saw movies that celebrated the U.S. soldier, like “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor.” Audiences rushed to theaters to see both movies.
The same situation could play out with the current wave of woke comedies. We’ll see a few more, most likely. Even if they similarly flop the industry won’t react right away. Eventually, though, the message will sink in.
Make us laugh. Don’t wag your finger at people paying hard-earned money to be entertained.
If that’s the case, we may see an indie comedy break through, the kind that doesn’t play by the PC rules. It might not have star power or huge ad buys on its side, but side-splitting laughs trump all.
Remember, the college classic “Animal House” was far from a sure thing, from the casting to the studio’s unease with the material.
“[Universal] didn’t really want to make this movie,” Tim Matheson, who played Eric “Otter” Stratton, told Page Six in a recent interview. “Sean Daniel was the young studio exec at the time and he just kept hammering them on this. The studio offered it to, like, five other directors from John Schlesinger to just all the wrong people, and they all turned it down.”
“Animal House” couldn’t be made in today’s frightened climate. It wasn’t an easy sell back then, either. Still, with some creatives working around the existing gatekeepers and technological burdens falling, we could be heading toward a new comedy renaissance.
We may have to endure a few more lectures before it happens, though.