As of this writing, the Matt Damon action-thriller "Green Zone," set in the initial days of the Iraq war, had earned about $17 million in its first week. Barring a surge of viewers, this $100-million film is shaping up as an unequivocal flop.
How can that be? There are few bigger stars than the Oscar-winning Damon, who was reteamed with Paul Greengrass, director of Damon's last two hugely popular "Bourne" thrillers. "Green Zone" was marketed as an action film with a trailer that emphasized bullets and bombs. Universal opened the movie on more than 3,000 screens nationwide, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com, suggesting high hopes for a big hit.
Part of the problem was a tepid reception from critics, who noted the film's uneven balance between action scenes and long stretches of wonky policy talk. Also, the title seemed misleading: The movie was "inspired" by the nonfiction book "Green Zone," about the insulated American enclave in Baghdad, but Brian Helgeland's script had little to do with the Green Zone at all.
But there's a bigger problem: Audiences don't want to watch movies about Iraq. "The Hurt Locker" was the lowest-grossing movie ever to win a best picture Oscar; last year's critically acclaimed "The Messenger" barely made a dent in the box office, grossing about $1 million. Previous years are littered with failed Iraq war movies, from "Redacted" to "Lions for Lambs" to "In the Valley of Elah."
Hollywood may finally be paying attention. According to Variety, few studios have war films in their pipeline, and the Sean Penn-Naomi Watts drama "Fair Game," based on outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, doesn't have a release date yet. "Green Zone" could be the last of its kind for some time.