War is quickly making a comeback in Hollywood.
Sure it's hell, but battle-soaked stories have always made good cannon fodder for the screen.
And despite initial wariness about releasing combat films after Sept. 11, studios are now pushing up the release dates of two movies that a month ago might have been deemed unacceptable to the American movie-going appetite.
Twentieth Century Fox has moved "Behind Enemy Lines" to Nov. 30 from January and Columbia Pictures will release "Black Hawk Down" in December, versus the originally planned March debut.
The holiday season is the second most trafficked period at movie theaters following the summer, and it's also when the studios usher out their Oscar hopefuls.
While officials for both studios said there was no intent to capitalize on the aftermath of the Sept. 11 aerial assaults, there's no doubt the current wave of patriotism in the United States might just be the thing that helps both films score big box office bucks.
"I think that may have influenced the scores (for "Behind Enemy Lines" in test screenings) and made people love the film a little more," said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at Twentieth Century Fox.
The movie stars Owen Wilson as an American fighter pilot who has been shot down in foreign territory and must be rescued by his commanding officer (Gene Hackman) before the enemy's secret police can find him. It was dreamed up after U.S. pilot Scott O'Grady was shot down over Bosnia.
Snyder said test audiences are giving the movie some of the highest scores in the studio's history and are standing and cheering at the end.
"Black Hawk Down" was set for a March debut, but producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pearl Harbor") and director Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") believe it is so good they are showing it in Oscar-qualifying runs in New York and Los Angeles beginning Dec. 28. It begins playing nationwide in January.
The movie, which is being released by Sony Corp.'s Columbia Pictures, tells of the events surrounding 1993's botched U.S. raid on a Somali warlord that left 18 U.S. soldiers dead.
It was precisely the kind of movie that had industry insiders wondering if it would fly with audiences after the attacks because it highlights a failed effort by U.S. Special Forces, the group currently in Afghanistan.
But instead of focusing on the military failure, it looks at combat from the soldier's point-of-view. The film contains graphic scenes of violence, including one scene in which a soldier gets his buttocks blown off.
Fear of pumping out that type of violence is what caused other studios to delay films like Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Collateral Damage" following Sept. 11, but often it is that type of violence that audiences have craved.
Indeed, the most violent of the fall films, "Training Day" starring Denzel Washington, opened at No. 1 at the box office with a $24 million weekend and has since gone on to gross nearly $70 million at domestic ciemas.
But before any big-budget movie director gets too giddy, they should remember October's "The Last Castle," about a U.S. Army General (Robert Redford) who overruns a prison. It had patriotic themes and it flopped at the box office its opening weekend, taking in only $7.1 million and landing at No. 5.
Movies can be patriotic, they can be violent, they can be sweet or they can be funny. But to truly be a crowd pleaser, they have got to be good.
Twentieth Century Fox is a unit of Fox Entertainment Group , which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Ltd., and Columbia is a division of Sony Corp.
By Bob Tourtellotte © MMI Reuters Limited. All Rights Reserved