Iraq War Comes to the Silver Screen

New films about the war are coming, even though the conflict is not over.

Sept. 5, 2007 — -- The war in Iraq is coming to a theater near you.

In the next few months, as many as eight movies about the Iraq War will be released in theaters, including two that are rumored to be favorites at this week's Venice Film Festival.

Unlike past war films, the majority of which were not released until years after the conflicts had ended, Hollywood is anticipating the fall release of films inspired by the current war in Iraq.

Notable releases include director Brian De Palma's "Redacted," a fictional film based on the true story of the alleged rape and murder of a 15-year-old Iraqi girl. New film "In the Valley of Elah," starring Tommy Lee Jones, exposes the hardships faced by Iraq veterans returning home. The Hollywood Reporter pegged "Elah" as a "damning indictment of the Iraq War."

In Years Past, Films Weren't Released Until After the War

"As opposed to Vietnam where the Hollywood machine pretty much waited for two or three years [to release movies], now we're looking at two or three years after the invasion," said Jeffrey Wells, a columnist for

The 1979 Academy and Golden Globe award winner "Apocalypse Now," from director Francis Ford Coppola, chronicled an army captain's journey through the jungles of Southeast Asia to find and kill a wayward U.S. Army Special Forces colonel. It arrived on the silver screen four years after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.

Similarly, "Full Metal Jacket" was released in 1987 and depicted the Vietnam War from the perspective of new U.S. Marines preparing to serve. Oliver Stone's film "Platoon" won an Academy Award in 1986, 11 years after the last American troops had left Vietnam.

"The Green Berets," one of the few films released during the Vietnam War, was panned by critics. In his 1968 review of the film, critic Robert Ebert wrote that he thought the movie was "propaganda" and "cliche."

A majority of the best-known World War II films were also released long after the war ended, such as "Saving Private Ryan" and the "Sands of Iwo Jima."

But in recent years Hollywood directors have shifted their practices, developing movies about wars that are still being fought.

Movies Echo Society's View of War, Film Critics Say

The surge in Iraq War films can be explained, some experts say, by considering the stark differences between today's society and one of the Vietnam era.

"These are different wars, different movie industries," said Patricia Aufderheide, a professor at American University's School of Communication. "In the Vietnam era there was deep, unreconciled conflict in the society about what the war meant. Today, there is a widespread sense in the electorate that this is a disastrous policy."

Sixty-three percent of Americans think that the war in Iraq is not worth fighting and 33 percent approve of President Bush's job performance, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.

During World War II and Vietnam, society's opinions of the war were not as strong so early in the conflict, film critics told ABC News, and the films during those periods echoed that sentiment. Because disdain for the war in Iraq began so early in the United States, the film industry was able to almost immediately begin producing movies that reflected how Americans felt.

"Almost from the beginning with this war there has been a huge part of the left that was against the war from the get-go," said Joseph Dorman, an independent filmmaker and founder of Riverside Films. "The anti-war movement in terms of Vietnam took a number of years to get going."

Wells, who has previewed many of the Iraq War films, agreed with Dorman, and told ABC News that Hollywood directors have little apprehension about coming out publicly in opposition of the war.

"There is less ambiguity and concern about the war," said Wells. "There is far less timidity — or zero timidity — regarding what the Iraq War is amounting to."

"In the late 1960s, the big theory was that if we don't stop [the communists] the other Southeast Asian countries will fall," Wells said. "There is no hesitancy these days, particularly with the Bush administration and how deeply loathed the Bush higher-ups are."

Projected Success of War Films Unclear

Whether the films about Iraq showcased in Venice this week will be hits in the United States remains to be seen, but some critics say that these films, no matter how much money they rake in, will give some audience members an opportunity to explore their feelings about the war, which have been brewing since it began in 2003.

"It will be interesting to see what kind of audience these films find," said Dorman. "The assumption is a lot of people go to these films for a certain kind of catharsis, because the anti-war sentiment was there from the get-go for a large portion of the population, and now they're ready to digest films about the war or look at the nature of the war."