A few years ago, there was much ado in Hollywood about the box-office failures of Iraqi War and terrorism-centric films. In 2007, In the Valley of Elah only picked up $6 million domestically, while Rendition, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon, only grossed $9 million nationwide, despite its stars’ tabloid-making romance. The same year, The Kingdom and Lions for Lambs failed to make bank, and later, films like Stop-Loss couldn’t quite manage to make an impression at the box-office.
The much-discussed reason for the failure of such films? American audiences wanted escapism when they headed to the theater, not a reminder of our bleak, war-plagued present. (In fact, Hollywood only seemed to find success in the genre in 2008 with the release of the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker, an Iraq-set film focused more on action than agony. Not that Hurt Locker — a hit on DVD — was a huge box office draw while in theaters either.)
So it’s interesting that now, in our recession-plagued era, Hollywood is churning out several projects centered on the financial crisis. First we have Oliver Stone’s upcoming Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, a sequel to the 1987 acclaimed film, set during the 2008 crisis. Then, in early May, came news that Michael Imperioli will star in a horror-thriller called Foreclosure, set against the backdrop of the subprime mortgage crisis. Later that month, a cast that included Andy Garcia was confirmed for the Bernie Madoff-inspired The Exodus of Charlie Wright, an indie about a billionaire who goes into exile after having led a Ponzi scheme. And, finally, today we received news that Simon Baker and Paul Bettany are in talks to star in indie thriller Margin Call, which, according to The Hollywood Reporter, “revolves around employees of an investment bank during a tumultuous 24-hour period during the 2008 financial collapse.”
We don’t need the Material Girl to remind us that money is sexy — but how will it will translate to the box office, especially when much of the movie-going audience is already bogged down with daily reminders of bankruptcy, unemployment, and debt? Sure, America’s money problem may not, at face value, seem as dark and daunting as the country’s involvement in a prolonged war with a disturbing death count. And the A-list-star-studded Wall Street sequel, for one, seems destined to be a box-office hit. But might American audiences be hesitant to embrace entertainment that reminds us of our economically downturn times (unless, in the end, they wind up with a new house built by Ty Pennington)? Is money the new Iraq War when it comes to film? Do you want to watch movies surrounding the economic crisis? Or would you rather head to the theaters to see 3-D aliens and action sequences?