Why aren't there more American Revolution movies? Sure, there's the occasional made-for-TV movie, like The Crossing (about George Washington's audacious attack on Trenton when the Revolution was at one of its lowest points). And of course, there's the recent HBO Films' miniseries John Adams, based on David McCullough's Pulitzer-winning bestseller. But...what about the Big Screen?
The Bad News
The reason there aren't more American Revolution movies (or history movies in general for that matter) is that the Big Screen is skewed toward younger viewers. As Shannon Dortch wrote a few years ago in American Demographics: "For the most part, the [movie] industry has placed its bets for 40 years on the people most likely to go to the show--teenagers and young adults."
Movie studios, by and large, know they can churn out Saw X or Alien v. Predator IV or Napoleon Dynamite or The Girl Next Door -- and make a ton of cash from the 15-24 demographic. (Oh, if there were only a way to turn the Titanic with Leonardo Decaprio into a sequel). But will these same viewers (who dominate the movie-going demographic) pay money to see Founding Fathers in wigs debate the Constitution? Unlikely.
That's bad news for history buffs, because...well...young people just aren't that interested in history - unless it's a love story with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DeCaprio on a sinking ship or Russell Crowe taking care of business as a gladiator in Ancient Rome.
This is why Hollywood doesn't produce more American Revolution films - at least not for the Big Screen. There just aren't enough movie-goers willing to pay money for them. Yeah, there's the rare exception, like Mel Gibson's The Patriot. But, come to think about it, that's about the ONLY exception. (Al Pacino's mid-1970s Revolution was a flop and doesn't count).
The good news comes on two levels. First, there IS interest in American Revolution movies (as well as Civil War movies, World War II movies, etc.) in the living rooms of older Americans. What this means is....television. That's right, there's a market on TV for history films. Witness the success of HBO's John Adams as proof.
The good news doesn't stop there, however. The film industry is changing. Like everything else, it is become more niche-oriented, appealing to specific, targeted segments of the population.
And making movies is becoming more cost-effective, provided that studios don't have to bank on Big Name marquee stars. This is why you're seeing more low-budget, independent features achieving mainstream distribution.
Here's an example. Consider Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce's courageous fight against slavery. It appealed to African Americans, evangelical Christians, and history buffs. Niche appeal. And was made fairly cost-effectively. It wasn't a low-budget movie, but it was not a high-cost blockbuster either. We can probably expect more Amazing Grace type movies in the coming years, even on the Big Screen.
And who knows? Maybe....eventually...we'll see George Washington leading the Contintental Army to victory...while we sit in an air-conditioned theater, munching on popcorn. Hey, it's a dream! One can hope.