For many people the images of commercial airliners hitting the Twin Towers and seeing Manhattan engulfed in a huge dust cloud as they collapsed, looked like a Hollywood apocalypse-style film.
But despite that, 9/11 has not generated as large a number of films as previous epochal events such as World War II or Vietnam have.
Industry insiders say experience shows that 9/11 films just don’t work at the box office, adding that the attacks may even have pushed Tinseltown to produce even more escapist films than it normally would.
In the decade since 9/11, only two Hollywood studios have produced films directly inspired by the most deadly attacks ever on US soil: Universal with United 93 by Paul Greengrass and Paramount with Oliver Stone’s World Trade Centre. Producer Bonnie Curtis, who has worked on films including Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, says that, “There was certainly an enormous amount of interest in 9/11 and the wars that happened afterwards.”
But there were also doubts about public appetite for films about such a traumatic event. Both United 93 and World Trade Center were relative box office failures when they came out in 2006. The first made $74 million worldwide and the second made $161 million; modest numbers for Hollywood’s standards.
According to Curtis, “Audiences didn’t really want to go the theatre and see that. And Hollywood is a business; so after the first rush of a handful of films on the topic, no one was green lighting those types of projects.”
Disney producer Don Hahn says that people did not want to see “traumatising” films and that, “We’d rather be entertained and watch films that make us escape reality.” He furthers adds, “Maybe that’s why we are seeing so many superhero flicks such as Captain America and Iron Man — because those characters can defeat bad guys and that’s really a great story for us.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 4th, 2011.