According to a report issued by Movieguide, a conservative watchdog group, conservative movies made three times as much money as liberal ones ($71.49 million per movie versus $22.48 million per film) last year. (That doesn’t even count the more than $200 million made by American Sniper in 2015.)
This is no anomaly, the group avers. In fact, it’s a trend. Since 2009, they say, “the number of movies with strong conservative, patriotic and/or capitalist content has increased from only 59 movies overall in 2009 to 110 movies in 2014.”
According to their release:
• Movies with pro-socialist values made only $15.3 million per movie.• Movies with pro-communist content made only $1.3 million per movie compared to movies with anti-communist, anti-socialist and anti-totalitarian content, which averaged nearly $67.1 million• Movies with very strong radical feminist content averaged only $2.9 million. • Movies with very strong atheist content averaged less than $1.98 million.
But what really qualifies as a conservative movie? This, I think, deserves some attention. Make no mistake, the movies killing it at the box office aren’t generally wholesome tales about places like Mayberry, don’t hearken back to the Leave it to Beaver era, nor are they explicitly Christian (like Left Behind) or overtly political (like Atlas Shrugged, which was a box office disaster).
As defined above, many of these are movies with strong “patriotic and/or capitalist content.” As such, movies considered “conservative” include The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Lego Movie, and Godzilla. Meanwhile, movies deemed liberal included Boyhood, Maleficent, Nymphomaniac, and The Imitation Game.
If being conservative requires me to watch Jennifer Lawrence kick butt, then so be it. But the fact that Selma is considered by the group to be a conservative film demonstrates how arbitrary terms can be—and how difficult it is to create a truly objective standard for quantifying ideology in movies (then again, the film does make LBJ look bad, so there’s that).
That’s not to say the “conservative” films don’t contain conservative themes. But, in many cases, it would probably be more accurate to simply describe them as not liberal. And there’s also this: One could argue that the fact we are going out of our way to suggest that films such as Selma and The Hunger Games are technically conservative suggests that we have already lost the culture war.
In many of these cases, “libertarian” would probably be a more correct description. Let me explain. Last year, the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein argued that Ghostbusters was the most libertarian movie ever made. After all, the EPA plays villain. That’s fine if you are libertarian, but not quite good enough if you’re a values voter. Imagine trying to convince a conservative parent, circa 1984, that a movie—which features foul language, Bill Murray attempting to seduce a coed, and scenes of demonic possession—is somehow evidence Hollywood is finally getting it.
The same phenomenon shows up on TV. Conservative Jack Donaghy was often the voice of reason on 30 Rock—but though Jack certainly was pro-capitalism, he was hardly a paragon of conservative virtue. Similarly, Ron Swanson’s arguments on Parks & Recreation are frequently convincing, but he’s a self-proclaimed libertarian.
This is not to say that Hollywood isn’t churning out some solid movies with wholesome family values. Walden Media, an entertainment company that helped bring about films like The Chronicles of Narnia, has played a huge role in this. Meanwhile, we really can’t dismiss the fact that there does seem to be a moral majority out there that rewards Hollywood for occasionally catering to them.
“This report reveals what we have known for years and what the entertainment industry is finally getting wise to,” said Dr. Ted Baehr, Editor-in-Chief of Movieguide, in a release. Whether it’s the success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion, or the blockbuster success of American Sniper, there is a real profit motive for making movies that, at least, aren’t hostile to conservative values—however one defines them.
So where does that leave us? If your definition of “conservative” entails a return to the 1950s, your not likely to have your concerns assuaged by your next visit to the multiplex. But if you’re looking for a popcorn flick that won’t turn your kids into little Marxists, or offend your sensibilities as a patriotic American, then you’re probably in luck.
With movie attendance declining—and people voting with their feet for more movies like American Sniper—maybe the capitalists in Hollywood will finally get religion. Wouldn’t it be ironic if conservative movies end up being what saves the movie business?