Will bin Laden's Death Make 9/11 Movies Easier to Watch?

Films about the war on terror have had a notoriously hard time finding audiences. Will the success of the bin Laden manhunt change that?

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Universal Pictures/MTV Films


Osama Bin Laden A terrorist mastermind is killed by heroic special forces in a dramatic fire fight after a decade-long manhunt: The story of Osama bin Laden's life and death has all the makings of a blockbuster movie. It's no surprise, then, that two films currently in production about the hunt for bin Laden just became "the timeliest film projects in recent Hollywood history," according to Deadline's Nikki Finke. One project by Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow and her screenwriting collaborator Mark Boal began preparations and casting several weeks ago under the working title Kill bin Laden. Another based on the 2006 book Jawbreaker, about a nearly-successful 2001 mission to kill bin Laden, has been in production for years, with Oliver Stone at one point attached. Given Sunday's news, Finke expects both projects to swiftly advance production, with updated scripts that include the celebratory ending of bin Laden's death.

The successful end of the bin Laden manhunt may signal a turning point in films about the war on terror. Since 2001, movies about the 9/11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have failed to take hold with audiences. Even with rapturous reviews, extensive marketing campaigns, and high-caliber stars, films like United 93 and Green Zone were massive box office disappointments.

Examining the genre's blanket poor performance, Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times in 2008, "Most Americans don't want to hear, see or feel anything about Iraq, whether they support the war or oppose it. They want to look away, period, and have been doing so for some time." But with the death of bin Laden, Americans aren't turning away. They are taking to the streets, chanting in celebration. Will this news, which President Obama called "the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al-Qaida," change the way audiences respond to movies tied to 9/11?

As the new bin Laden films are rushed to development, and production continues on 9/11 dramas like the adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock), here's a look back how hard it's been for war on terror-themed movies to find audiences in the past:

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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