Hollywood made $2.4 billion winning WWII on the big screen
World War II looms large in our collective memory, and how could it not be? It practically defines the 20th century. Tens of millions of people fought around the world in a war to end fascism, culminating in the dawn of the atomic age and the beginning of the Cold War. World War II saw some of the greatest triumphs for the American military. What else could represent the Marine Corps at its official memorial other than raising the flag at Iwo Jima? And is it a coincidence that the Army has in recent years reverted to its WWII uniform, or chosen to rebrand its troops in Alaska as the WWII 11th Airborne Division?
The movie industry was no different. At this point, there are almost too many WWII movies to count, even in the last 40 or so years, and to quote Brad Pitt’s character in Inglourious Basterds: “Business is booming.” Hollywood earned $2.4 billion to reclaim war on the big screen. It’s not slowing down either, even though the generation of WWII servicemen is passing fast. The latest Medal of Honor recipient, Herschel “Woody” Williams has just passed away, but the latest miniseries produced by Tom Hanks, masters of the airis already in production and should chronicle the exploits of the 8th Air Force during their brutal bombing campaign against Germany.
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At the top of the box office list, World War II hits are Saving Private Ryanas well as the slightly less well-received — at least among critics — wearing pearls. The list goes on with entries like Brad Pitt’s Tanker Manifesto Fury, hacksaw crest, red tailsand even more cheesy dishes like The men of the monuments Where Hart’s War. There’s a POW drama, like Empire of the Sunand there’s the infinitely watchable kind of men on submarines like U-571. Then there is the war from a different point of view, like enemy at the gates or Tom Cruise plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler in Valkyrie.
A total of 88 of the highest-grossing World War II-themed movies made since the 1980s have grossed an estimated $2,408,000,000, according to IMDB’s list of movies on Box Office Mojo.
And that’s not even taking into account previous years.
Even before the end of the war, the film industry produced films showing the war being won. Some of the best films of 1942 were John Wayne in The flying tigers and Wake Island. When casablanca was released in 1942, many cast members were only years away from fleeing the Nazi occupation of Europe.
These films continued over the following decades. The longest dayan adaptation of Cornelius Ryan’s book about the Normandy invasion, grossed over $50 million, and that’s in 1962 dollars. The Dirty Dozen? Over $45 million. Patton? Over $62 million.
Added famous movies like The great Escape, Cannons and Navarone and Bridge over the River Kwai, and you eclipse $3 billion. And that doesn’t even take into account foreign films.
It is estimated that the United States spent up to $4.7 trillion during the war. Hollywood will never come close, but the film industry has spared no expense in portraying war. Given enough time, however, they could eventually get closer to manufacturing that much money.
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