In a presidential election year, the only real “October surprise” from Hollywood would be a complete absence of films with political tinges. But don’t worry. It won’t happen. Already, release schedules for the months preceding Nov. 8, Election Day, are peppered with movies that have partisan potential, whether overt or covert.
Sometimes, of course, films are subversive in approach. Who knew (other than its devilishly clever writer-director, Joss Whedon) that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” would be read as a parable about the National Security Agency and drone strikes?
Other movies wear politics on their sleeves, and baseball caps. Michael Moore knew exactly what he was doing in 2004, when he opened the contemporary era of partisan filmmaking with his “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a documentary assault on George W. Bush.
Schedules will shift. New films will surface. But these movies are already a fair bet to touch the political conversation.
“Independence Day: Resurgence”
Release: June 24
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Roland Emmerich — writer, director, producer and pot-stirrer — is big on Apocalyptic moments, as in the original “Independence Day,” wherein aliens destroyed Washington. But he is even bigger on the sort of political messaging that underscored his “The Day After Tomorrow,” which was released by Fox about five months before the 2004 election. That one, about a global freeze, purported to deliver lessons about the dangers of climate-change denial.
“Independence Day: Resurgence” brings back the aliens, this time squared off against the first female president of the United States, played by Sela Ward. “She’s strong, decisive and not afraid to kick ass!” Ms. Ward told People last year. That could help Hillary Clinton, as she heads toward a convention that may nominate her as the Democratic presidential candidate. Either way, Fox can reprise a film whose original took in more than $817 million at the worldwide box office.
“The Purge: Election Year”
Release: July 1
Studio: Universal Pictures
This one, too, might score points for Mrs. Clinton. It’s the third installment in the writer-director James DeMonaco’s social-horror series about an annual, supposedly cathartic, government-sanctioned crime spree: “The Purge: Election Year” features a female presidential candidate.
Universal last month added the magic words “Election Year” to the title of a film that was previously called just “The Purge 3.” Clearly, the studio plans to trade on electoral energy, and it has already made its intentions clear by running an advertising spot for the film during Democratic and Republican debates.
It will stay ahead of the unforeseen or unpredictable — like a triumph by Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders — by opening before the convention.
Release: Aug. 5
Studio: The Weinstein Company
“The Founder,” based on the story of the McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, might be politically neutral. Or it might bounce against, say, Donald Trump, the Republican businessman who for the moment is leading the race for the party’s nomination. Harvey Weinstein, one of the wiliest political progressives in a movie industry filled with them, recently moved “The Founder” from a planned postelection release to early August.
In explaining the shift, Mr. Weinstein — who backed “Fahrenheit 9/11” — said he meant to show that awards-worthy movies could be released at any time of year, not just in the crowded fourth quarter. But Mr. Kroc, like Mr. Trump, opposed an increase in the minimum wage. It is the sort of thing that seems sure to spark debate, especially if the film, directed by John Lee Hancock and starring Michael Keaton, wades into the politics behind a donation by Mr. Kroc to Richard Nixon in the early 1970s, when the minimum-wage issue, as now, was on the table. (Assuming, of course, that Mr. Trump emerges victorious from the July 18 Republican convention.)
“Southside With You”
Release: Aug. 19
Studio: Miramax and Roadside Attractions
Well received at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Richard Tanne’s “Southside With You,” about the beginning of a love affair between young Barack Obama, played by Parker Sawyers, and his future wife, Michelle Robinson, played by Tika Sumpter, is certain to play as a mildly inspirational, get-out-the-vote call for Democrats. That the film “has meticulously reverse-engineered our knowledge of the Obamas into a sweet, sexy, highly flattering youth portrait is less a criticism than a simple statement of fact,” wrote Justin Chang, in his review for Variety.
But in politics, every action has an opposite and sometimes even stronger reaction, noted the veteran consultant Christopher Lehane. In an email almost three years ago, he warned of a downside to the planned release of an indie film titled “Rodham,” a love story about young Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton that didn’t come together in time for the election cycle.
“Of course, the political world (beyond fair time issues) will extrapolate deep political significance around whether it does or does not have commercial success,” Mr. Lehane wrote. The same caution may now apply to the gently partisan “Southside With You” — large or small, the box-office results may be seen as a gauge of political enthusiasm.
For Miramax, which was sold this month to the beIN media group, the film underscores a commitment to backing fresh material, not just remakes and sequels from the library.
SOURCE: MICHAEL CIEPLY
The New York Times