Conservatives are up in arms that a film celebrating the Navy Seals who killed Osama bin Laden will hit theaters less than a month before the 2012 presidential election.
Hollywood routinely produces left-of-center content, but a cinematic reminder of the Obama administration’s crowning achievement smacks of an unpaid political ad, a cinematic October surprise.
But conservatives should partially blame themselves for the paucity of GOP-friendly films in the marketplace.
To paraphrase a great baseball film, when they show them, they don’t come.
Yes, some recent blockbusters like “300” and “The Dark Knight” were embraced by the right for their conservative strains. But unabashedly conservative films have a lousy commercial track record.
Movies like “The Undefeated,” “Atlas Shrugged,” “I Want Your Money” and “An American Carol” failed to ignite the box office in ways that would make movie studios scratch their chins with interest.
“The Undefeated,” the most recent pro-conservative film, used a guerilla marketing campaign to spread the news of its theatrical release. Yet after 28 days, the documentary highlighting former Gov. Sarah Palin’s political ascent earned only $116,381, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Palin attracts a crowd wherever she goes. She’s a political rock star even though she isn’t running for any office — yet. Why did most of her fans stay home?
“Atlas Shrugged Part 1,” the long-awaited film version of Ayn Rand’s beloved novel, made just $4.6 million earlier this year, putting plans for a second and third installment in jeopardy.
Some of these conservative films over-performed when you consider the forces in play. “The Undefeated” had precious little marketing money behind it and had to compete against the likes of the last “Harry Potter” film and “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
“The Undefeated” opened on just 10 screens, a typical strategy for a niche film. If those screenings had racked up massive numbers, more theaters would have been added.
But the Palin documentary only expanded to a grand total of 14 screens before ticket sales waned.
Movie critics will be quick to note the lackluster quality of these right-leaning films. And, for the most part, they’re right. “The Undefeated” made a night spent watching MSNBC feel fair and balanced by comparison. “Atlas Shrugged” raised the bar for stiff, unnatural acting. And “An American Carol” delivered a fraction of the laughs from director David Zucker’s previous hits, “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun.”
But subpar films routinely clean up at the box office. Most critics tarred and feathered “The Hangover Part II” earlier this year, yet the comedy sequel hauled in more than $253 million and counting.
A dozen years ago, conservative filmmakers could blame a lack of press for their commercial failures. Not anymore. Between the Web and talk radio, any right-minded project can get oodles of free publicity. They can also run interference on specious reportage. When The Atlantic jumped on an empty midnight screening of “The Undefeated” to prove it was a flop before it even had a chance, right-wing blogs trashed the report as unfair.
The religious community is far more proactive in supporting those rare films of faith. “The Passion of the Christ” earned $370 million following its 2004 theatrical release.
This year’s “Soul Surfer,” based on the remarkable true story of a spiritual teen who lost a limb to a shark, managed to earn $43 million.
Even faith-based films with puny budgets can make a splash at the box office. The biggest name attached to the 2008 film “Fireproof” was former TV star Kirk Cameron, and yet the film raked in $33 million.
The film industry can be notoriously stubborn when it comes to approving story trends or casting aside ones whose time has come. Studios insist sequels and remakes are the coin of the realm, and it would take a dozen or so flops to make them change their minds.
Yet when “Sex and the City” became a sensation three years ago it didn’t open up the floodgates for more girl-power comedies. And we’re still waiting for the industry to attempt a clone of “Christ.”
So it will take a few right-of-center hits before the suits realize there’s an audience for that brand of content. That’s where right-minded movie-goers come in.
Today’s consumers know they can vote with their wallets as easily as they cast a ballot on Election Day. Yet by choosing to stay home rather than support that oh-so-uncommon conservative feature, they’re guaranteeing the film market will keep catering to the left.
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, film critic and movie blogger at whatwouldtotowatch.com. His work appears in The Denver Post, Box Office Magazine, The Washington Times and The Daily Caller, and he can be heard on the nationally syndicated “Dennis Miller Show.”