"Stop-Loss" loses battle in wider ideological war

Fri Apr 4, 2008 4:11am EDT
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By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Last weekend, Hollywood offered moviegoers -- particularly younger ones -- a choice.

They options were a glossy movie about a bunch of sexy MIT whiz kids beating the house in Las Vegas and a gritty movie about a bunch of sexy young soldiers who, after completing their tour of duty in Iraq, learn they are being redeployed to the front.

Overwhelmingly, audiences opted for Sony's "21," which opened in first place to $24.1 million, over Paramount/MTV Films' "Stop-Loss," which bowed in eighth place with just $4.6 million.

In a "memo to Hollywood" posted on his site, Fox News talk-show host Bill O'Reilly proclaimed "Stop-Loss" "a bomb, a major disaster at the boxoffice." O'Reilly added, "There is a difference between loyal dissent, a good thing, and trying to make your country look bad. You, Hollywood people, often do the latter. And the folks know it."

Needless to say, the reality is a good deal less black and white.

Although "Stop-Loss" hardly set the box office ablaze, it was more a misfire than a bomb. The opening gross for "21" might have been five times higher than that for "Stop-Loss," but "21" was playing in twice the number of theaters. On a per-theater basis, "Stop-Loss" actually ranked fourth among the weekend's top 10, taking in $3,528 per theater, ahead of fellow rookie "Superhero Movie," which opened at No. 3 with $9.5 million.

The serious-minded "Stop-Loss" inevitably faced an uphill battle when facing off against escapist entertainment like "21." Although the current crop of Iraq movies hasn't yet connected with audiences in the way that the Vietnam movies of the second half of the 1970s did, it's worth remembering that most of those movies weren't blockbusters, either; 1978's "The Deer Hunter" ($49 million in domestic grosses) and "Coming Home" ($32.7 million) paled in comparison to that year's "Grease" (nearly $160 million in its initial release).

Now, the common wisdom in Hollywood is that with the Iraq War still raging, it's too soon to ask moviegoers to revisit the war. After all, Hollywood waited several years after Vietnam ended before approaching that topic.   Continued...

<p>Actor Ryan Phillippe who portrays Brandon King in the movie "Stop-Loss" poses for a portrait in Los Angeles March 16, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>