EDITORIAL: Movies and the 9/11 impact
UPDATED: September 11, 2016 with updated and new movie inclusions (after original post on the 10th anniversary in 2011) and a new section of faded and relaxed sensitivity. I plan to make this an annual post and study. (All poster images are courtesy of IMPAwards.com)
Never forget. There's no doubt that every American over the age of 17 won't soon forget where they were 10 years ago at 8:46AM on September 11, 2001. The world and our American lifestyle changed forever that day in more ways that we can measure. I know movies and cinema are trivial pieces of entertainment compared to the more important things in life, but movies have always been two-hour vacations and therapy sessions from life, even in the face of immense tragedy. Sometimes, we need movies to inspire us and help us remember the good in things, while still being entertained. In ten years, they too have changed.
I'm here for an editorial on the anniversary of 9/11 to showcase a few movies, both serious and not-so-serious, that speak to that day whether as a tribute, remembrance, or example of how life has changed since that fateful day. Enjoy!
MOVIES THAT WERE OPENING THAT FRIDAY FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
Call this a time capsule, but these were the notable movies that opened Friday, September 7, 2001 and Friday, September 14, 2001, the two Fridays surrounding 9/11. Such a different time, huh? Needless to say, few people were in the mood for a movie in those first weeks and the fall 2001 box office took quite a hit until the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone showed up in November 2001, followed by Ocean's Eleven and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring that December.
The Musketeer (September 7th)
Soul Survivors (September 7th)
Rock Star (September 7th)
Hardball (September 14th)
The Glass House (September 14th)
All were box office bombs at the time. The Musketeer garnered a good bit of overseas earnings and Hardball got some of the best reviews of Keanu Reeves's post-Matrix career and grew to be a DVD hit. Still, talk about bad timing.
EXAMPLES OF 2001-2002 MOVIES CHANGED BECAUSE OF 9/11
City by the Sea-- The production on this Robert DeNiro/James Franco thriller was moved from New York to Los Angeles in July 2001, dodging the terrorism attacks that would have threatened their home Tribeca studios. (trailer)
MOVIES ABOUT 9/11 ITSELF
There are only two biggies. It would be nice to see holiday improve on this in the coming years with great stories.
United 93 (2006)--Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass took an unknown cast and directed a harrowing real-time account of the flight that fought back. Hard to watch, but undeniably powerful without exploiting the tragedy. (trailer)
World Trade Center (2006)-- Conspiracy specialist Oliver Stone turns off the urge to dig into his usual musings and delivers an incredibly humble, respectful, and understated (words that hardly ever describe an Oliver Stone movie) true story of the last two men (Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena) rescued alive at Ground Zero. Worth every moment to see and a great tribute to the first responders and their families. (trailer)
MOVIES WITH PROMINENT 9/11 CONNECTIONS
Reign Over Me (2007)-- In a rare dramatic turn, Adam Sandler plays a fictional wayward man who lost his wife and daughters on 9/11 and tailspins through life fiver years later when an old college friend (Don Cheadle) tries to help keep him from being committed to a psychiatric care. (trailer)
Remember Me (2010)-- Billed as a coming-of-age film starring Twilight star Robert Pattinson, it features a fictitious family affected by tragedy, including the fall of the WTC. Most critics found the 9/11 connections exploitative and offensive. (trailer)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)-- Speaking of exploitative, the Tom Hanks/Sandra Bullock Oscar nominee from this past year definitely rubbed more than a few audiences the wrong way in using 9/11 as a backdrop to a fictional family tragedy. Critics (including this one) clammored that if you're going to bring 9/11 to the big screen, use a real story. (trailer) (my full review)
MOVIES ABOUT THE WAR ON TERROR
In the decade since September 11, 2011, our largest response as a nation to the terrorism of that day has been a pair of wars overseas in the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. The "war on terror" has quickly grown into a ripe orchard for possible movie storylines.
Home of the Brave (2006)--Rocky producer Irwin Winkler earns the credit for the first mainstream Hollywood movie depicting the Iraqi War and the initial soldiers returning home to reacclimate to society. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, and Jessica Biel. (trailer)
The Hurt Locker (2008)-- Of course, the best-of-the-best is the 2009 Best Picture winner from Kathryn Bigelow starring Jeremy Renner as a driven, yet dark Iraqi bomb specialist. Its quality needs no introduction. (trailer)
Grace is Gone (2007)-- In the Audience Award winner of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, typical gender roles are reversed when John Cusack plays a homefront father (in my opinion, the best he's ever acted) who has to find the best way to tell his two daughters that their soldier mother was killed in Iraq. This movie is "guy-cry" level brilliant. (trailer)
In the Valley of Elah (2007)-- Crash director Paul Haggis leads Tommy Lee Jones (in an amazing Oscar-nominated performance) and Susan Sarandon as parents investigating with a local detective (Charlize Theron) the disappearance of their AWOL son returning home from Iraq. (trailer)
Stop-Loss (2008)-- Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play three young Texas schoolmates who are finally home from overseas but are forced back via the stop-loss clause. (trailer)
The Messenger (2009)-- Woody Harrelson was nominated for an Oscar for his role as a U.S. Army Casualty Notification Team officer mentoring recent veteran (Ben Foster) on the uniquely difficult job of informing families the bad news. (trailer)
Taking Chance (2009)-- Along the same bringing-bad-news-home lines is this gem of a HBO film starring Kevin Bacon (like Cusack earlier, in arguably his best performance as an actor) as a desk officer who never saw combat but takes on the duty of escorting a young fallen soldier's body back to his old hometown. Even though this wasn't in theaters, it is outstanding and worth your time on DVD. (trailer)
Dear John and The Lucky One (2010 and 2012)-- These two adaptations of Nicholas Sparks romance novels briefly touches on the War on Terror through Channing Tatum and Zac Efron's lead characters' return home to romance. (trailer and trailer)
Green Zone (2010)--Director Paul Greengrass followed United 93 with his Bourne series star Matt Damon in this taut and marginally-dramatized account of the early unsuccessful searches and possible cover-up of Baghdad's supposed stores of weapons of mass destruction. (trailer)
Restrepo (2010)-- The highly acclaimed National Geographic documentary film follows a one-year look at a the real men of the platoon embattled in the deadliest fortified valley of Afghanistan. (trailer)
Act of Valor (2012)-- Disney pumped up the military with this fictional anti-terrorism film using active duty Navy SEALs. Coming out after the death of Osama bin Laden, this was a welcome and well-promoted hero picture and recruitment reel. (trailer)
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)--The Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow made a film about the SEAL Team 6 men and their story of taking down Osama bin Laden. The film was my #1 movie on my "10 Best" list for 2012. (trailer) (my full review)
Lone Survivor (2013)-- Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) directed an outstanding and patriotic film based on the Afghanistan saga of Marcus Luttrell starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch that echoes another true-life story from the ongoing War on Terror. Very good movie! (trailer) (my full review)
A Most Wanted Man (2014)-- Spy novelist John le Carre's multi-layered 2008 novel about the world of inter-agency espionage happening in Hamburg, Germany, the same city where the 9/11 conspirators hatched their plans, is an excellent and different post-9/11 film with an international flair and flavor. It will also be remembered as one of the last performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was phenomenal in the film. (trailer) (my full review)
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)-- This modern reboot or update of the famed Tom Clancy character, now played by Chris Pine, roots his pre-spy origins in the aftermath of 9/11 and the War on Terror that followed. (trailer)
American Sniper (2014)-- Clint Eastwood's Best Picture nominee war drama about the real-life story of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper) went on to become the highest grossing film of 2014 (north of $350 million). Kyle's journey from the heartland to the front lines was spurred by a sense of duty and patriotism that started from the attacks of 9/11. This is, by far, the most high profile movie to date to feature the War on Terror directly correlating 9/11. (trailer) (my full review)
Good Kill (2015)-- On the smaller side, but just as solid with warfare and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is this under-seen film which had a limited theatrical release during the summer of 2015. Andrew Niccol (Lord of War, Gattaca, The Truman Show) shifted his focus to the War on Terror by showcasing a Las Vegas base of drone pilots dealing with the ramification of their actions and the war being waged on their screens and with their joystick controls. (trailer) (my full review)
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)-- Director Michael Bay's slanted look at the September 11, 2012 embassy attacks that have become a political firebrand since certainly qualifies to make this list. (trailer) (my full review)
MOVIES ABOUT THE CHANGES IN AMERICAN LIFE (both serious and not-so-serious)
25th Hour (2002)-- New Yorker Spike Lee was quick to not shy away from the post-9/11 pulse of New York City following Edward Norton's character's last night of debauchery and unfinished business before going to prison. Filled with scathing social commentary and visual reminders of 9/11 and Ground Zero, its amazingopening credits sequence alone set the tone as only Spike can. (trailer)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)-- By contrast, in a small snippet and computer graphic on melting glaciers in this Oscar-winning documentary, Al Gore lets us know that half of Greenland or Antarctica's melted ice would put New York, including Ground Zero, underwater within the next 50 years. (trailer)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2013)-- For a serious look at the warped view of Muslim citizens post-9/11, take a look at Mira Nair's dramatic thriller about a young Pakistani man (newcomer Riz Ahmed) who is successful on Wall Street but viewed differently through profiling after 9/11. (trailer)
Boyhood (2014)-- Richard Linklater's huge biographical opus was filmed over the course of 12 years with the same cast growing up and aging to tell their family story. The film starts in 2002, where the incidents of 2001 are fresh on the minds of the characters and discussed openly during the first year sequence of the journey. Later on, political mentions of Bush, Obama, and the War on Terror make it into reflective conversation as well. (trailer) (my full review)
Keep an eye on Oliver Stone's upcoming 2016 film Snowden to make this section next year.
MEMORABLE PAST IMAGES OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER IN MOVIES
Sometimes, all it takes is the camera making a fleeting, yet memorable, glance at those beautiful and now-gone skyscrapers to immediately remind us of a different time. The WTC towers have been shown in innumerable establishing shots. We'll highlight some great ones. Beginning with the closing credits to New Yorker Martin Scorsese's 2002 film Gangs of New York, here's a great montage of cinematic views of the WTC from various pre-2001 movies:
King Kong (1976)-- While it may not match the iconic 1933 image of the original ape towering on top of the Empire State Building, the World Trade Center plays a big role in the 1976 remake starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. (trailer)
Independence Day (1996), Deep Impact (1998), Armageddon (1998), and The Day After Tomorrow (2004)-- These all constitute the prominent disaster movies that leave New York (and, in three cases, the WTC) in destructive shambles.
Honorable mention: Godzilla (1998), Cloverfield (2004), War of the Worlds (2005), and Watchmen (2009). Kind of not so entertaining for few seconds anymore, huh? See for yourself. Here's a montage of NYC movie destruction.
MOVIES THAT FEEL DIFFERENT IN THE POST-9/11 WORLD
I don't know about you but a lot of movies just don't resonate or feel the same as they did before September 11th. We've changed and the perception has changed. For some movies, their message and impact is only made stronger (in good ways and bad) since 9/11. In other cases, what was entertaining then doesn't feel so right anymore.
The Siege (1998)-- This frightening martial law thriller with Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, and Bruce Willis makes True Lies look like G.I. Joe starring Ken from the Barbie dolls toy line. Scary and eerily prophetic in its over-the-top terrorism and bombing scenarios. (trailer)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)-- Though fictional with Pittsburgh standing in as Gotham City, the New York imagery and parallels occurring during its terrorist takeover led by Tom Hardy's Bane has eerie 9/11-inspired ramifications. (trailer) (my full review)
Munich (2005)-- The Black September assassination of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the Mossad's reaction was probably the last time before 9/11 that terrorism made worldwide live media headlines. (trailer)
Arlington Road (1999)-- While this resonates more as a comparison to Oklahoma City-style domestic terrorism, the Jeff Bridges/Tim Robbins underappreciated thriller is no less scary now than then. (trailer)
Charlie Wilson's War (2007)-- The same foreshadowing can be made out of our 1980's Cold War involvement on the side of Afghanistan versus the Soviet Union as outlined by a gem of a Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman film. To think that we could have stuck around and cleaned the place up before they became our enemy. (trailer)
MOVIES SINCE 2001 THAT RENEW THE AMERICAN SPIRIT
These examples (as well as the aforementioned World Trade Center) will get your patriotic heartstrings going and boost your down spirit.
Behind Enemy Lines (2001)-- Leave it to Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson (of all people) to win macho patriotic points for loosely reenacting the famous pilot Scott O'Grady Bosnian prisoner escape story. (trailer)
Black Hawk Down (2001)-- Released during the 2001-2002 awards season, Ridley Scott's powerful depiction of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu showed the uncompromising courage of U.S. Army Ranger and Delta Force soldiers at a time when our current soldiers were likely preparing for going overseas to similar urban warfare. (trailer)
We Were Soldiers (2002)-- Mel Gibson may be embroiled in unpopular headlines now, but his 2002 action-drama from his Braveheart writer about America's first official military action in Vietnam is as powerful and it is impressive. Like Black Hawk Down, it added to the heroic mystique of the American soldier, even if it was set in the past. If you don't cry watching those wives deliver those first casualty letters, there's something wrong with you. (trailer)
Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004)-- New York's #1 resident superhero always fights for a way for the citizen of the city to stand up together. I suppose you can throw in the pair from the reboot (The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2) for some of the same reasons. (trailer)
Ladder 49 (2004)-- Though it wasn't set in New York, you can't help but think of the 343 NYFD men and women that lost their lives on September 11th and ardent first-responders when you watch Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta as macho Baltimore firemen. (trailer)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)-- Last but not least, you can't get more patriotic and underdog than this skinny guy from Brooklyn transformed into a red-white-and-blue supersoldier. He followed it up this past summer saving New York in The Avengers. (trailer and trailer) (full review and full review)
American Sniper (2014)-- The tremendous reception Clint Eastwood's film had to become the highest grossing movie of the year made Chris Kyle a household name and heavily amplified a previously dormant red-blooded (and "red state-d") surge of patriotism and soldier appreciation. (trailer) (full review)
Sully (2016)-- Both the incredible true story of Flight 1549 from 2009 and Clint Eastwood's respectful retelling featuring Tom Hanks as Capt. Chelsea "Sully" Sullenberger remind audiences of the strength of New York City. There's a great line in the movie where someone is trying to thank Sullenberger and says that it's been a long time since the city has had good news about anything like the "Miracle on the Hudson," especially about a plane. (trailer) (full review)
Keep an eye out this fall of 2016 for Ang Lee's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk and Peter Berg's Patriots Day in this category and the "War on Terror" one above.
THE UP-AND-DOWN PULSE OF CONTINUED SENSITIVITY AND/OR CENSORSHIP TO 9/11 SIMILARITIES
For 2014 and going forward, this is a new section I'm adding to this study. Now that enough time has passed since 2001, I'm beginning to notice that movies are starting to go back to some of the images and themes of violence, destruction, and terrorism that were hands off for so many years after 9/11. Like all history, even 9/11 will fade. What we were offended by after the horrific incidents have returned, in some cases, to be more tolerated and even acceptable and celebrated again. Sure enough, there are plenty who vividly remember 2001's events and images and are quick to point out when something is in possible poor taste. That shaky barometer has led to some allusions and reminders to 9/11 and some flat-out censorship changes and corrections. Some get flak and slaps on the wrist while some don't. Here are some examples in recent years.
Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down (2013)-- Both competing White House takeover films from 2013, one from Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") and one from Roland Emmerich ("Independence Day") had a bit of split audience reaction to their violent and terrorist content. Some rooted and cheered as if it was the 80's again and America is always going to win. Others were not so keen or ready to see the White House become a target and battleground, even if it was just a movie. Between the two, Olympus Has Fallen, the R-rated and more severe one of the two, was the bigger hit. In a way, no one batted an eye. (trailer and trailer) (Olympus Has Fallen review)
Man of Steel (2013)-- Despite being one of the most all-American heroes around, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel gave Superman a very serious tone that, in a way, can't be included on the category before this one of movies that renew the American spirit. Also, many people were not very pleased at the immense city-wide destruction scenes of Metropolis during the film's climax. Even though Chicago was the filming location of a fictitious comic book city, there were staunch critics who had a problem with huge office buildings and skyscrapers in very 9/11-esque rubble. Many are hoping it's 2016 sequel addresses that a city can't be destroyed without consequences, even on Superman's watch in a colorful comic book setting. (ending battle clip) (my full review)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)-- Much like Man of Steel, the third Michael Bay Transformers movie features a great deal of city-wide destruction (again, in Chicago) that rubbed a few people the wrong way. (trailer) (my full review)
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)-- Throw in the terrorist label for the villain and his bombings and the big San Francisco starship wreck during this film's ending action that was clearly a larger scale to a passenger jet taking out buildings. (trailer) (my full review)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)-- Outside of this string of modern and accepted examples of urban attacks and destruction, is the minor amount of hot water the makers of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got it for a promotional poster that had an exploding skyscraper that cut too close to 9/11 similarities. The study pulled the poster and had to apologize. Censorship and sensitivity won that argument and mistake. (trailer)
The Walk (2015)-- A very big test to peoples' memories of the World Trade Center will be coming in the Fall of 2015 with Robert Zemeckis's film The Walk, the true story of the French high-wire artist Philippe Petit's quest to tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 (previously featured in the Academy Award nominated 2008 documentary Man on Wire). Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the film will prominently display, thanks to Zemeckis's stunning use of CGI, a tremendous amount of imagery of the two lost skyscrapers. Even though it's a period piece to a non-turbulent time, no film since 2001 has attempted to show this much of those building. Public reaction was mixed and the film was not a box office hit. (trailer) (full review)
Ghostbusters (2016)-- Well, New York was safe for at least a month anyway between Independence Day: Resurgence's release and the new reboot (which conveniently made sure its city destruction in Times Square and other places be easy to erase). Not far behind was the fictional Suicide Squad and its over-the-city halo of supposed death. (trailer) (full review)
I hope everyone enjoyed this little (OK, large) retrospective about the impact of 9/11 in movies for the last ten years. Take some time this coming weekend to appreciate the freedoms we have the people fighting to keep them for us. Support your troops and, again, NEVER FORGET!