Hollywood calls ‘Truce’ on war films

'Green Zone' results continue genre's disappointing record

In just one week, war-themed content has spanned the highs (best pic Oscar for “The Hurt Locker”) and lows (“Green Zone’s” opening weekend).

Somewhere in the middle was a modest bow for the much-hyped HBO miniseries “The Pacific.”

With U.S. troops embroiled in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, American audiences continue to suffer from war fatigue. So will Hollywood give up on the genre?

Universal’s “Green Zone,” which is set against the backdrop of the U.S.-led occupation of Baghdad in 2003, earned $14.5 million its debut weekend and was seen as the best bet to entice audiences to foray behind enemy lines. The $100 million pic, which was sold as a more of a “Bourne”-type actioner than a traditional war drama, enjoyed a bona fide star in Matt Damon as its lead. And yet the Paul Greengrass-helmed film found little traction with moviegoers under 30.

Universal declined to discuss “Green Zone’s” showing, but industry watchers say the film could put the final nail in the coffin on war-themed pics for some time.

“Look at the last several films with war themes,” said an exec at a rival studio. “Even ‘Hurt Locker’ — critical acclaim, Oscar glory — ask the producers if they would rather have an Oscar or a significant profit.”

In fact, “Hurt Locker’s” multiple Oscar statues have only translated into an extra $1 million at the domestic box office since Oscar weekend.

Even before “Green Zone,” several studios began shying away from the genre. Sony, Disney, Fox and Paramount have no adult-skewing war pics in active development. Universal’s “Battleship,” which is nearing a green light, hardly qualifies, as the protags are battling aliens rather than foreign bad guys and will target young males. Warner Bros. is the sole major that has any adult war pics in its pipeline; the studio has a remake of “The Dirty Dozen” at Silver and Village Roadshow, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” at Industry, with Michael Mann attached to direct and World War II drama “St. Nazaire” at Heyday.

Even with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts toplining, the Bill Pohlad-financed drama “Fair Game” — based on outed CIA operative Valerie Plame — still has no release date.

When asked if there is currently any appetite for war-themed scripts, one lit manager summed up the prevailing mood in one word: “Noooooooooooo!”

Similarly, there are no notable war-set TV projects of any note on the horizon. Though “Pacific” drew 3.1 million viewers to its Sunday night premiere, that number paled compared to the 10 million viewers who tuned in to HBO’s “Band of Brothers” bow nearly nine years ago. However, after VOD and repeat viewings are added in, the “Pacific” number will be considerably higher.

(Dave McNary contributed to this report.)

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