I’ve said it since the night of the US election—movies are about to get a big escapism bounce. It’s already started, with the first post-election weekend posting box office numbers almost 50% higher than the same frame last year, and it will continue to affect movie turnout as people look to get away from the world for a few hours. The projections on almost every major release have moved up in the last few days as attendance is expected to rise through the already busy holidays. (Not for nothing has Disney, purveyor of fine escapist fare, is having a record-breaking year.)
But how will this desire for escape affect a movie like Mark Wahlberg’s Patriot’s Day? Instinct tells me that the movies that will enjoy the biggest bounce are fantasies, family films, and superheroes—stuff that’s both outside our real world and centers on messages of teamwork and hope. Then there’s stuff like Patriot’s Day, which is, well, patriotic. You would think a rah-rah America movie would be a shoo-in for success. But Patriot’s Day has some unique challenges facing it.
The biggest is that no one knows what it means to be “rah-rah America” right now. We want movies that will bring us together, for however short a time—in a dark movie theater, we’re all the same. Surely we can all agree on a movie about the manhunt for and capture of the Boston Marathon bombers? Maybe, maybe not. On the one hand, this is the ultimate real-life teamwork story. But on the other, with Islamophobia on the rise and hundreds of hate incidents recorded since the election, people may be wary of putting a negative spotlight onto a community under a great deal of stress right now.
There are more pedantic concerns, too. Wahlberg and director Peter Berg’s last collaboration, Deepwater Horizon, didn’t set the world on fire (pardon the pun). And December is stacked with competition, including some surefire crowd pleasers like Rogue One, La La Land, Passengers, and comedies Office Christmas Party and Why Him?. Ben Affleck’s Live By Night will appeal to the “serious” set—probably the biggest direct competition—and watch out for Sing, which is going to RAKE IN CASH.
Someone at Lionsgate/CBS Films is aware of these challenges, because the new trailer emphasizes the “Boston Strong” aspect of the story, with survivors clutching children and exhausted police officers clasping hands and hugging family members. Will it be enough? I don’t know. It will probably do better than Deepwater Horizon, and there will be a devoted audience for a movie like this regardless of any other factor. But people are judicious with their movie money. The majority of the holiday audience won’t see all these movies. They’ll choose maybe two, tops. If you’re a family on Christmas Day, looking to get away from reality and grandpa’s political opinions, is Patriot’s Day the choice you’re making?
Here is Mark Wahlberg at the Governors Awards on the weekend.