American Movies, Foreign Minds

Two articles in the Wall Street Journal this week confirm a lot of people’s feelings about modern American movies.

The first article, a witty tirade by Joe Queenan, asks whether 2010 is the worst year for movies ever:

Go into a movie theater any day of the week and watch as the audience sits listlessly through a series of lame, mechanical trailers for upcoming films that look exactly like the D.O.A. movies audiences avoided last week.

Maybe one should never say ever, but after watching Robin Hood and Prince of Persia—even after not watching Sex and the City 2 and The Last Airbender—I feel Queenan’s pain.

The second article, by Lauren A. E. Schuker, takes an agonizingly clear-eyed look at the growing–or maybe I should say full-grown–influence of foreign audiences on theoretically American movies.

The rising clout of international audiences is a sea change for Hollywood. Decades ago, a movie’s foreign box office barely registered with studio executives. Now, foreign ticket sales represent nearly 68% of the roughly $32 billion global film market, up from roughly 58% a decade ago…

The result is that one of the most American of products is now being retooled to suit foreign tastes. Studios have begun to cast foreign actors in American-themed blockbusters like “G.I. Joe.” Scripts are being rewritten to lure global audiences. And studios are cutting back on standard Hollywood fare like romantic comedies because foreign movie-goers often don’t find American jokes all that funny.

It certainly seems at least possible that the second article explains the first.  That is, perhaps the economic necessity of appealing to countries other than America has sapped American movies of their quality.  For surely, the thing that once made American movies so great was the greatness of unique American values:  individualism, self-reliance, a healthy disrespect for the powerful and the romance of infinite territory.

American movies used to be big because we and the world used to see ourselves as big:  big in our dreams, big in our plans, big somehow in our souls.  Consider this description from British nurse Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament of Youth as she watches the first American doughboys marching to the front during World War I:

They looked larger than ordinary men: their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast to the under-sized armies of pale recruits to which we had grown accustomed. At first I thought their spruce, clean uniforms were those of officers, yet obviously they could not be officers, for there were too many of them; they seemed, as it were, Tommies in heaven…  I wondered, watching them move with such rhythm, such dignity, such serene consciousness of self-respect…

It took stars like John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart to depict that race of men—and epics like Stagecoach, High Noon and Philadelphia Story.  Do you think the pewling, self-hating, apologizing and appeasing leftists who dominate so much of the arts these days see us like that ?

American movies used to be important because the stakes were so high.  We were the last, best hope of earth.  What happened here mattered to everyone.  If the good guys lost in America, they lost everywhere.  If they won, everyone had a fighting chance.

The left has sought to make us forget this about ourselves.  They teach that it’s virtue to believe this country is just one more in the list of nations.  It’s not.  History proves it never was.

American movies will not be great again until they are made by artists who comprehend America’s unique greatness.

Let the rest of the world make their own movies.

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  • Joelly

    Arguably the greatest decade for movies, the 1970′s, all applied deconstructionism to concepts like country, hero, and yes, American exceptionalism, and those films (Taxi Driver, The Godfather 1 and 2, Deer Hunter, Easy Rider, etc.) are considered classics by just about every single movie goer on the planet. They are also more revered than any John Wayne western, minus the Searchers, or Gary Cooper film. Movies like this were already being considered naive fantasy decades ago, hence the change.

    I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in conservative thinking recently. It seems that for all the right’s complaints about “leftists” seeking a Utopian vision, the right has their own deluded utopianism. Only difference is one is in the future and one is in the past. It’s as if conservatives want to reconstruct out of ashes the institutions and traditions that the forces of history, science, technology, and intellectual thought have essentially pulverized.

    Sorry to invoke the last group of people who tried to bring the past into the future, and “restore traditons” or “take the country back” but it was the Nazi’s. Perhaps the lesson should have been learned then. Come to think of it Hitler also had a strident anti-intellectualism in him too. Same with the American right, and their hatred of left wing intellectuals critical thinking applied to their sacred cows like God, country, and individualism.

    “All the kings horses and all the kings men can’t put humpty dumpty back together again”.

  • Gail S

    We can make movies for the rest of the world, but the rest of the world still believes in the American Dream…it was foreigners who had that dream. The governments around the world want to see the American people subdued, but their citizens don’t. The true story of America plays well everywhere. What is rejected as “too American” is the Hollywood/TV pop culture that is really completely unAmerican, and rejected by America as well.

    But you are right, until the real America is on display in our theaters, not only Americans, but foreigners will abandon the theaters as well.

    Best regards,
    Gail S.

  • epaddon

    Speak for yourself on what is a “classic” because none of the films you mention from the 70s will *ever* be more revered than the classics of the studio era, which turned out far more bona-fide classics in an age where the values of those films reflected the values of American society rather than the elite thinking of the far left.

    Genuine anti-intellectualism when it comes to movies comes from those making them and positing with a straight face (and getting critical acclaim in the process) that a US president was murdered by some nebulous right wing fascist conspiracy based on the most grotesque distortion of the historical record (“JFK” and its making a saint out of the most reckless abuser of prosecutorial power in the history of American jurisprudence, Jim Garrison, not to mention giving a platform for the flaky crackpot ranvings of L. Fletcher Prouty), or that Edward R. Murrow was the savior of America from Joe McCarthy (“Good Night And Good Luck”).

  • Mazzuchelli

    Arguably, this single movie goer disagrees. Those movies signalled the beginning of the end and the rise of the critics, not the audiences. Even watching as a kid, it was clear traditions were being destroyed with nothing material offered to take their place.

    And the disturbing trend with liberals continues: Dust off the tired, morally relativistic and broken Nazi analogies when right is not on your side. Grow up.

  • anon

    You don’t have to go as far back as the 70s. Just look at American popular films in the year before 9/11. Arguably schmaltzy films like Armageddon and Independence Day celebrated america and american heroes. The same producers now come out with films that appeal to the international audience and either unintentionally or unconsciously undercut the idea of american culture and its values.
    The greatest filmmakers of yesteryear were inspired by American cinema, even if their films were antithetical or regional in nature. I fail to see any 16 year old falling in love with the works of Lars Von Trier and wanting to make films.

  • Pinky

    Oh, darn, Hollywood is cutting back on those wonderful, inventive romantic comedies! Here’s a thought: no one in the US wants to see them either. Aside from (500) Days of Summer, there hasn’t been an interesting romantic comedy in years.

    Joelly – Every group that’s no longer in power wants to restore the good old days. Two years ago, the Democrats were talking about taking back America. Two+ years from now, they may be talking about it again. Certainly, the Republicans have been talking about it non-stop, but that doesn’t make them comparable to the Nazis.

    You make a good point about 1970′s movies, but I can’t quite go as far as you do. First, I don’t think Easy Rider is considered a classic. But more to the point, the Godfather movies, the most indisputable classics of the ones you listed, aren’t classics because of the story they tell. They’re legends because they’re grand movies, maybe even slow, but rich. They’re more reminiscent of older films.

  • whiskey

    I hate to blow my own horn, but I took apart the idea that growing global box office revenue equals enhanced Hollywood profits. Go to my website for the full break-out, or simply look at the figures in the interactive table on the WSJ article. China, for example, grew 347% in box office gross revenues over the last ten years (1999-2009).

    BUT … it still only accounted for LESS than 5% of total GLOBAL box office revenue. The US was largest, at 33%, followed by JAPAN at 7%.

    There are other things (increased local competition, piracy, etc) affecting the mirage of foreign box office profits, but the biggest one is SCALE. With that many countries, how does say, Fox have boots on the ground from Slovakia to Spain to Szechuan Province, to provide an honest accounting of box office revenue and get its fair share? Particularly when they don’t have the “dealership” model of a long-term mutually dependent relationship of say, Honda Motor Co?

    I don’t get it. I don’t see HOW Hollywood is actually making money here, from Global Box office. To me its a scam like subprime mortgages being chopped up and sold as synthetic investment grade bonds. Its laughable.

    Very suspicious is that NO STUDIO has broken out revenue country by country trumpeting top-line, organic growth from box office abroad. You’d think there’d be some winners touting growth and say, further investment. The whole thing screams of underwear gnomes.

  • whiskey

    Let me add (no edit function sigh) that the article also notes that Black actors decrease foreign box office. Detailing the cancellation of a mostly Black cast movie that was in high regard and an acclaimed script but had very limited foreign box office potential.

    Opportunities for Black actors rests in the domestic market. NOT foreign expansion.

  • Jack Marino


    You are exactly right about Hollywood, as long as the 60s radicals run Hollywood we won’t see films that glorify God, Country, Mom and apple pie.

    You will only see these films from guys like me.

    I am living this and putting my life where my mouth is. Films for me never changed. In 1988 I made a film that shows our Vietnam warriors as heros and Hollywood came after me like a war criminal. Since I didn’t have the wealth of a Mel Gbison or Stallone the made sure my film would never see the light of day. I have a mixture of American kids in this squad that goes out and brings back a Russian General, who is seeking freedom. I was told by the head of MGM distribution, the first and last Black American to have that job, ‘that it was refreshing to see blacks in a film that wasn’t stereotyped.”

    I have been fighting the leftist Hollywood establishment since 1990 when I finally completed they only film besides John Wayne’s Green Berets that doesn’t have any F-bombs in the film. I had saved them and sent them all to Tarantino.

    FORGOTTEN HEROS is the name of this film that the left didn’t want any of you to see. On the conservative side, I do get some help here and there, but for the most part I am treated like the drunk in a crowded elevator. Normally, I wouldn’t care since I have been at this for over 21 years, but when you have your own like minded group publicity tell the world that they are here to promote and help ‘conservative filmmaker’s.

    Then the only guy in America that has a 35mm theatrical full length feature narrative film, that honors and pays tribute to a generation of Veterans that were spit on in real life and on film, is completely ignored one begins to wonder if they really believe in what they preach.

    Here is what some Americans who love films that honor our troops have said about my film.

    “Forgotten Heroes is actually unforgettable” – Actor Michael Moriarty – Big Hollywood

    Jack, you have helped enhance the lives of our Nation’s military and veterans and I appreciate your efforts to honor these heroes” Your support of these selfless warriors reflects the best of the American Spirit and I am grateful for your compassionate work.’

    - President George W. Bush – White House Letter July 21, 2008

    “Our nation is fortunate to have patriots like Jack Marino and John Lebert, who had the courage to create Forgotten Heroes as a thank you for all of the Vietnam Heroes who paid the ultimate price with their lives, and for the Veterans who came back…. Welcome Home Brothers, Welcome Home” – Brigadier General (CA, Ret ) Ronald B. Flynn Former Platoon Leader, 2Bn, 7th U.S. Cavalry, Vietnam 1966

    “The First Impressionistic War Film!” – Eric Sherman – Filmmaker/Author”

    “It took a lot of guts and courage to make this film. I wish my dad and uncles were alive to see it. They all served in NAM and came back very broken men. Our country just threw salt into their open wounds, but they never complained, only drank themselves to death. Thank you!!!- Herb Powell, Jefferson City, MO

    Apocalypse Now has the big movie stars. Platoon has the budget. Full Metal Jacket has Kubrick. But Forgotten Heroes has the truth. And when history does what history always does best and shakes itself loose of the blistering lies told of and about America’s involvement in Vietnam, it will be Jack Marino’s Forgotten Heroes that’s first acquitted.” -John Nolte – Editor in Chief -BIG HOLLYWOOD

    “Jack, this is a resourceful and moving film. I can’t tell you how much I admire the effort and the result. You’re a brave man. I still watch Apocalypse Now once a year and eat sweet shrimp and other assorted sushi. FORGOTTEN HEROES… I have MREs and a beer!” – Duke Sandefur – Writer & Executive Story Editor – Walker Texas Rangers, Soldiers of Fortune, Inc

    There are plenty more where these came from. Since FORGOTTEN HEROES is the only independently made film that honors our troops in Vietnam, you would think that every conservative would buy this DVD as an act of defience towards the leftist that run Hollywood and push their vile crap down our throats.

    Andrew you, every conservative at Big Hollywood and every consevative out there must purchase and support a film like FORGOTTEN HEROES. It has been compared to the Green Beret, which is one of the greatest compliments I have ever received. I say this because, I am the only game in town. There will never be a conservative that will come out with a Ben Hur level film that promotes America. You will have your Mel Gibson and now Stallone, we need more and more films to counteract this leftist onslaught of films that have scared the youth of our Country.

    You can buy my DVD from my website at we are donating 25% of the DVD GROSS off the top to the AMERICAN VETERANS DISABLED FOR LIFE MEMORIAL FUND. This is an organization that Gary Sinise is helping to raise the fund to honor out disabled Vets.

    What better way to do this , then for people to buy the only film today that honors and pays tribute to the Vietnam Vets and all of our troops out there and the Producers are giving a major cut of the profits to a great cause.

    This DVD should be selling like HOT CAKES out there. Post like yours is the only way for me to get the word out. I even started my own internet radio show to tell the world about this film. I am on LA TALK RADIO every Friday at 8PM PST and 11PM EST

    I am a one man marketing operation with a film that is 21 years old because Hollywood blacklisted me, since the crime I committed was that I dared to show Americans as Heroes. You want to send Hollywood a message, go to my sight and buy a copy tell the world about it.

    “if one gets out there, it’s a victory, Von Ryan”

    I thank you all for reading this post.

    Jack Marino

  • Classic Liberal

    Cmon, Joely, I’ll wager that for every film buff who would rate TAXI DRIVER higher than RED RIVER and STAGECOACH, there are two others who would argue the point.

  • Russ Dvonch

    I wrote a piece for Big Hollywood called American Exceptionalism and the Hollywood Hero that traces the influence of American Exceptionalism on Hollywood — and yeah, John Wayne has a starring role! It can be found at

  • Kendama

    Regarding “intellectuals”…

    “Same with the American right, and their hatred of left wing intellectuals…” [emphasis mine]

    …there’s your problem.

    Contrary to what you may believe, Joelly, we’re smarter than you realize. Our beef is when such people try to use their superior education as an excuse to violate our rights as free Americans. We have no problem with learned men and women; we have a problem with know-it-all busybodies who try to micromanage our lives.

    You have the gall to say this…

    “Sorry to invoke the last group of people who tried to bring the past into the future, and “restore traditons” or “take the country back” but it was the Nazi’s.”

    …then follow up with this:

    “…their sacred cows like God, country, and individualism. [emphasis mine]

    Excuse me, but that does not make a lick of sense. You decry individualism, suggesting an authoritarian or paternalistic view of society, yet you compare us to Nazis. The Nazi party was no friend of individualism — on the contrary, they believed that “superior beings” had an exclusive right to rule, and that those “superior beings” all happened to be non-Jewish Germans. You act as if it was a libertarian utopia with civil rights comparable to those of America — it was a dictatorship!

    Is it because we Americans love our country, Nazis loved theirs, therefore loving America and its traditions makes you a Nazi? Sorry, but no sell. Four years at some high-priced college (or a bajillion hours at the library) does not make you my lord and master.

    It does not matter whether you are learned or unlearned, American or non-American, male or female, rich or poor. Anyone trying to rob Americans of their hard-won freedoms using BS justifications does not deserve any respect at all.

    Then again, you are true to form. Only an aspiring tyrant would decry human freedom as a “fantasy” and claim “scientific” support for their aim of total control…just like Hitler. Or Lenin.

  • Fallon

    Go to before you decide to donate to those crooks at the American veterans disabled for life memorial.