Lost in Liberal Hollywood: So Which Films Do Conservatives Prefer?

Kurt Thurber


When Republicans and Tea Party conservatives are not blaming unions, single mothers, and homosexuals for the decline of society, they conjure up the Hollywood bogeyman. To conservatives, the makers of movies are purveyors of socialism, the disintegration of “traditional values” and the nuclear family. Granted, this is nothing new. As far back as the McCarthy Hearings in the 1950s, when Republican Senators tried to ferret out communist Hollywood screenwriters, friction has existed between the entertainment industry and conservative entities in the United States.


Today, even as conservative actors are becoming more vocal about their beliefs-- Kelsey Grammar, James Caan and Sylvester Stallone (in fairness Stallone did just as much as Ronald Reagan and capitalism to destroy the Soviet Union with his fictional triumph as Rocky Balboa over fictional Soviet boxer Ivan Drago), there is still a huge disparity between liberal themes in Hollywood movies and conservative values. So what exactly are conservative themes and which mainstream movies are considered conservative in message appeal?


First, how to define conservatism in the United States other than owning an Ann Coulter book? If one hums a tune that includes lyrics about free markets, small government, traditional values, pro-life and a strong national defense, then they might be a conservative (if the Jeff Foxworthy reference elicited a chuckle, then you might be a conservative).  On the other hand, a liberal jams to social safety nets, pro-choice options, civil liberties, environmental protections and human rights. While neither is exactly top-40 materials these days, they stay within their catalogues.


Moving on to films, this article will not focus on films that are targeted specifically for conservative audiences. Films such as Fireproof, The Passion of the Christ and Atlas Shrugged: Part I are conservative films made by conservative filmmakers. These movies are nearly pornographic in their saturation of conservative values and themes. While two of these movies grossed millions (over $600 million for The Passion of the Christ and $33 million for Fireproof which is impressive since it looks like a middle-school theater production), they are tailored to a specific audience—conservatives—with messages that are not intended to resonate with the general public. 


These films are produced in the same vein that Michael Moore films are made to create antagonism directed at the segments of the population with right-wing beliefs. Michael Moore and James Cameron are not the only Hollywood types  that raise the ire of conservatives for speaking out on progressive causes and testifying before Congress. It is also the likes of Sean Penn, Danny Glover, Matt Damon, Susan Saradon and the father/son combo of Martin and Charlie Sheen (Martin Sheen is pretty out there, but how can anyone hate on Charlie? Don’t answer that).


Now that right-wing snuff films are off the table, what about popular movies that conservatives have adopted as their own? Why have these films been embraced by the conservative community and media? To answer the second query, conservatives appear to be attracted to films that highlight military valor, patriotism, entrepreneurship, freedom and the protection of the status quo or existing system (if a movie, say Black Hawk Dow, can demonstrate the uselessness of  the United Nations, then it is a lock for a Fox News’ Academy Award). 

Conservatives love action flicks. A popular choice among conservatives is Zach Snyder’s 300, according to the National Review, which compiled a list of favorite conservative films. It is the story of Spartan King Leonidas and the sacrifice of 300 Spartans to unite Greece against the thousands upon thousands of invading Persians. The heroic bravery and martial acumen of the Spartans is on display throughout the movie (which would have been 40 minutes shorter if every action sequence wasn’t in slow motion) as they beat back invaders who did not share their value for freedom. (While Leonidas’ and the Spartans’ actions are the height of human bravery, it is not mentioned in the film that the entirety of Spartan society was built by slave labor.) In the same swords and sandals vein, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator portrays a framed Roman General who gives Rome (America) back to the people and reinstitutes democracy, overthrowing a tyrannical and out-of-touch monarchial ruler. In The Dark Knight, Batman fights the Joker and his terrorist tactics so the good people of Gotham will have freedom, even if their civil rights are infringed upon, demonstrating that the ends will justify the means.


The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a.k.a. the greatest travel promotional video ever made (good work New Zealand) has strong conservative themes. The author of the novels, J.R.R. Tolkien, was a devout Catholic and critic of the industrial developments in post-war Britain. The books and the movies stress a message of preservation, at all costs, of the pastoral society of the Hobbits. Heck, even the Elves are moving on from Middle Earth to what are assumed gated communities and private islands across the ocean. Lord Sauron, pure evil, is defeated because of the goodness and determination of the “free peoples of Middle Earth.”


Conservatives do have a softer side as well, obvious in their admiration for movies such as The Pursuit of Happyness and Juno. Will Smith portrays a struggling African-American businessman who finds success through his determination and talent without any government assistance in The Pursuit of Happyness. Juno, a movie about teen sex, orange Tic-Tacs and hamburger phones, is cited as a favorite of conservatives for the main character’s pro-life decision.


The great thing about movies is anyone can watch them and experience them on their own terms. Box-office receipts indicate that many of these films have been viewed by people of all ideologies. Liberal themes can also be found in many of the movies mentioned earlier—the adopting mother in Juno decides to get a divorce and raise the child alone; Gladiator and Black Hawk Down examine the justification for military occupation; and The Lord of the Rings has strong anti-industry and pro-environmental imagery (the trees literally go to war).


Good, entertaining movies have nuances that stimulate us in many different ways. If conservative movie-goers decide to indulge in films where decisions are black and white, there are no anti-heroics, and only good vs. evil take place in settings that are often pure fantasies, good for them. Maybe it will dawn on them one day in a crowded theater that there is nothing divisive about having a different reason to like a movie.

Author Bio:

Kurt Thurber grew up in Caroline County, the only landlocked county on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. After matriculating through the public school system with no distinctive accomplishments whatsoever, he attended Mary Washington College, graduate school at Villanova University and completed a successful apprenticeship as a masked vigilante crime-fighter. He is ready for a highbrow discourse on any number of subjects. Did Han Solo shoot first? Heck and yes. What was MacGyver's first name? Angus. Can anyone put baby in a corner? Yes, Patrick Swayze from heaven. Read more of Kurt Thurber's musings at his blog www.historyguffaw.com.

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