About two weeks ago my wife mentioned that there was a movie called “Lone Survivor” coming out. She mentioned it to me for two reasons: (1) I love Mark Wahlberg (he is the man), and (2) its a film inspired by a book that I’ve read and own which inspired the film. The film and book tell the story of a real Navy SEAL team mission into Afghanistan in the early phases of the war. So, once I knew the film was coming out soon, I went ahead an added the release date to my calendar, just to remind myself to go watch in case I miss the marketing campaign for it.
Thinking about this film got my mind on a thought tangent. In my head, I started thinking about all the films I had watched that were connected and related to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. I realized that the list was long enough to be worth writing down. I ended up diving into Wikipedia and Google tracking down names, release years, etc. I became fascinated by the fact that the extensive list I put together were all films that wouldn’t have existed had the Iraq and Afghanistan wars not happened, which in part are by-products (one could argue) of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
I decided to cut the list down to films released by major American studios with at least some sense of star casting. Why do this? Well, my hypothesis became that we can get a better sense of how much impact the Global War on Terror (GWOT) has had on the film industry by the willingness of major studios and actors to be invest, produce, and act in such film projects. My hypothesis may be flawed, but the truth is that the market for documentaries, B-movies, and foreign films is a much more selective market than what a major American studio is aiming when they invest into a blockbuster.
I decided to break down the list into four categories. Even though I may have missed a few films here and there, this is the list I ended up with given the margins above:
Beginnings: These are films that deal directly and primarily with the events of 9/11 and the immediate impact. They may extent up to the beginnings of the War in Afghanistan. The only two films I have accounted for are the following and both were released in 2006:
United 93 (2006)
The Frontlines: These films have plots that put them right in the center of the firefight. They are very military-focused and war-centered. These films show us the minds, souls, and actions of the frontline war fighters. Zero Dark Thirty almost didn’t make it in this category but the fact that OBL is the focus of the film and the depiction of the special operations raid made it “frontline” enough for me. I excluded Act of Valor because it didn’t fit any of my margins above:
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Lone Survivor (2014)
The Homefront: These are films impacted by the war and the deployment of troops. Some of them are comedies; some are love films. Some are psychological thrillers; some are political thrillers. And there are others which are none of the previously mentioned. I debated about including some of these but this is the final list I felt comfortable with:
Home of the Brave (2006)
Lions for Lambs (2007)
In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Grace is Gone (2007)
The Messenger (2009)
Taking Chance (2009)
Dear John (2010)
The Lucky One (2012)
The Extension: In many ways, these are the most vague of the films inspired by the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These films could have been made without the mentioned events taking place; however, the writers decided to make the Global War on Terror (GWOT) crucial parts of the plots. These films are inspired by the much wider theatre of operations that the GWOT includes. Zero Dark Thirty could have fallen under this category but I stated above why it didn’t:
The Kingdom (2007)
Body of Lies (2008)
The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
Green Zone (2010)
Fair Game (2010)
I found it interesting that no major blockbuster is released until 2006 when United 93 and World Trade Center come out in theatres. For those who have followed the wars in detail, you will connect 2006 with one of the toughest and worst years for the troops in Iraq and one of the toughest times back home for the Bush administration and the economy. However, it isn’t until 2008 that a blockbuster is released that dealt directly with combat operations, The Hurt Locker, which ended up winning the Oscar for Best Film over Avatar (thank God). Even though the B-movie market is full of movies about combat ops in Iraq/Stan, the major studios seemed to have refrained from such projects for the most part, possibly not knowing if such films would succeed or fail.
Finally, the Homefront and Extension films haven’t been shy about exploring the war on terror as a topic for inspiration. My conclusion is that these films, even though inspired by the wars, deal with themes and concepts that can exist and do outside the wars. The wars and the deployments are catalysts for the plots and settings that are used, but they aren’t the plots and setting themselves.
You can easily find dozens and dozens of films about World War II, great ones and bad ones. Looking at this list makes me wonder whether we will see a deeper and different exploration of the Global War on Terror as the years go and the major combat operations draw to an end in Afghanistan a year from now. I welcome any of your thoughts and ideas regarding this post. Thank you for reading.