Achtung! Quentin Tarantino had his biggest weekend opening with Nazi-killin' epic Inglourious Basterds: $37.6M. Did opening weekend hijinks by the Weinsteins help? Or is it just that America loves them some Nazi movies? I think we love Nazis in movies!
Nikki Finke quotes one studio executive as noting: "The Weinsteins live to fight another day." I say, slow your roll: this is the first weekend, and it ain't gonna save the company single-handedly. Next week, Inglourious will have to compete with Taking Woodstock and The Final Destination (supposedly the final Final Destination movie). Horror films make for stiff box office competition, and Taking Woodstock might - might - chip away at hip young contingents who'd balk at violence. But: hot damn! Nazis - and especially Nazi killin' - do pretty okay at both the box office and at awards season. Let's take a look back at the history of Nazis at the box office, shall we? Possible spoilers ahoy, and by no means is this list definitive. Help us with the ones we missed in the comments.
Inglourious Basterds, 2009, Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Nazi Evil Factor: 6/10. Typical Nazis: they go around goosestepping and hating everything but other than Christoph Waltz's character - who just plays evil so well - they're nothing too special, and Hitler is portrayed as an idiot with the temperament of a twelve year-old.
Box Office Performance: N/A In the long run, who knows? But! $37.6M in the first weekend for a Tarantino film ain't bad.
Awards Season Power: N/A No telling at this point. But this year, there are ten - count 'em, ten - slots in the Best Picture category. Even a nomination could bolster its chances, and dollars to donuts, you can bet the Weinsteins are going to fight a brutal campaign to get this thing looked at.
Legacy: N/A Again, yet to be seen. Could be the ultimate Nazi revenge epic (especially compared to Valkyrie, in which not enough Nazis are killed by a sissy, emo, eye-patched Tom Cruise).
American History X, 1998, Dir. Tony Kaye
Nazi Evil Factor: B+. Real, because they're contemporary, and we know they exist, and they're taking our innocent youth with them. They come in all shapes, and sizes, but only one color: white, and angry. They are scary and you probably live near some and don't know it. Also, Ed Norton, we love him! He's so angry looking!
Box Office Performance: C+. Around $24M worldwide, with a great life on DVD. For a film budgeted at $10M with Norton being the most bankable actor, not half bad.
Awards Season Power: D-. Incredibly overlooked. Norton got a nomination for Best Actor from the Academy, but it didn't take home any major awards.
Legacy: B. Kaye wanted to have name removed from the final cut of the film, but critics mostly loved it. Since then, cult status. Still a favorite of basic DVD collections, college dorms, race relations classes everywhere. Maybe the best look at contemporary Nazism to this day. And #50 on the IMDB Top #250.
The Reader, 2008, Dir. Stephen Daldry
Nazi Evil Factor: D. The main Nazi in question turns out to be the older woman who becomes the lover of a young kid. She looks into the distance and stuff after they have sex, and then she gets sad. Then she goes to trial as a war criminal and (SPOILER ALERT) guess what, she never learned how to read. Boo hoo. How mean can the Nazi at the center of an Opera Book Club selection adaptation be? Exactly.
Box Office Performance: B+ 8/10. Awesome. $106,759,226 worldwide, according to the film's Wikipedia page, with more DVD sales numbers to come. With an estimated $32M budget, I think it's safe to say producers were happy with the result.
Awards Season Power: B. It won Kate Winslet an Oscar! How 'bout them apples? Not surprising, but still, mostly a critical consensus that it was the award-winning (note: not the best, nor the favorite) female leading performance of the year.
Legacy: C. The highbrow Nazi chick flick to watch, if you're going to watch one. Flawed, but gets the job done quite well in certain respects. Not the be-all-end-all, but not a bad entry, either.
Schindler's List, 1993, Dir. Steven Spielberg
Nazi Evil Factor: A. This is Spielberg, are you kidding me? It's like the opposite of E.T. Imagine a world where everything cuddly, wonderful, and nice were sucked out of its head and you were forced to watch the entire extraction. Welcome to World War II, and also, the entirety of the Schindler's List experience. The girl with the red jacket, for christsake. These fuckers are evil, soulless, and terrifyingly accurate depictions.
Box Office Performance: A$321M worldwide, and that's without network rights, DVD sales, etc.
Awards Season Power: A-. It's a Spielberg movie about the Holocaust. How do you think it did? Sadly, no huge actor awards, but this one was never about the actors. This was a movie about the story, the storytelling, and the storyteller, and the awards it got reflected that. It remains, statistically, the most critically lauded film of Spielberg's Career. Also, try to talk shit about this movie as a critic, and you're bound to be ostracized for it. End of story.
Legacy: A+. The Holocaust Movie, bar none. A full viewing of Schindler's List fulfills my yearly quota for requisite Jewish guilt, but I don't know anyone who can sit through it more than once. Maybe the biggest downer to ever make so much money and do so well at the box office. Shown in high schools, shown in Sunday Schools, shown in any class that's ever done any serious studying about the Holocaust.
Downfall 2004, Dir. Oliver Hirschbiegel
Nazi Evil Factor: C-. Hitler's going down, and he's portrayed sincerely by an awesome Bruno Ganz as a fat, blubbering, manic moron who doesn't know what to do when the walls are closing in on him. It was controversial for being one of the first films to have a German playing the role of Hitler, and one that tried to humanize Hitler as a three-dimensional character with human flaws. In other words: something besides a monster.
Box Office Performance: B. $92,180,910. Not bad. The film cost around $25M to make, and most of it takes place in a Panic Room-like bunker.
Awards Season Power: C-. It was nominated for Best Foreign Film, but lost. The British loved it: it won the BAFTA for Best Foreign Film. Bruno Ganz was critically lauded, but people just couldn't see giving an award to the guy who played Hitler better than anyone else could play him.
Legacy: B-. The Ultimate Hitler Movie, but moreso for the context than for the portrayal of Hitler. Director Hirschbiegel was trying to help viewers understand Hitler and his pain, and trying to provoke conflicted emotions about him, which worked, but nobody would admit it, and there was lots of outrage over Hirschbiegel's attempt. More important, however, is that Bruno Ganz's performance became an internet meme (whee!) where people would insert subtitles into a scene where Hitler is screaming his subordinates. For all intents and purposes, it is a pretty great internet meme, if there is such a thing. Example, in place of the trailer, above.
Valkyrie 2008, Dir. Bryan Singer
Nazi Evil Factor: C-. Meh. X-Men director Bryan Singer made Nazis about as evil as, I don't know, Magneto on a bad day.
Box Office Performance: B-. $200M. Tom Cruise did pretty well, all things considered, including a reported budget of $90M.
Awards Season Power: F. Niet! Critics don't dig on Nazi, Eye-Patchy Tom Cruise.
Legacy: C-. It's Tom Cruise dressed up as an Eye-Patchy, Nazi Killin' Nazi, directed by the guy who did The Usual Suspects. Camp value!
The Pianist, 2002, Dir. Roman Polanski
Nazi Evil Factor: B. They hate lots of things, but a piano-playing Adrien Brody ain't one of 'em. Typically evil. They kill things people love and are generally evil assholes.
Box Office Performance: B-. For a $35M budget, $120M (most of that coming from worldwide gross), it did fairly well, and still attracts decent followings on DVD.
Awards Season Power: B+. Failed to capture any Best Picture wins, but did score BAFTAs and Oscars for Polanski and Brody. Also took the Palm d'Or at Cannes, for what it's worth.
Legacy: C+. Should have a better one, but Brody's post-Pianist career and Polansky's pervy hideout status continues to haunt this movie amongst people who haven't already seen it. It's great, but is it great enough to be in the pantheon of great Holocaust movies? It should be.
Nazi Evil Factor: F. Not so much. There's a maybe Nazi-loving Broadway artiste, but the real villians here are Broadway Producers, who, well, yes.
Box Office Performance: B Well, consider this: the film itself did mediocre box office business because much of America considered it to be in bad taste - Peter Sellers even had to put an ad out in Variety telling more theaters to carry it - but it eventually spawned a long-running musical that gave Broadway some much needed life, which spawned a so-so movie version of the new musical. So, for Mel Brooks, yeah, I'd say it paid off.
Awards Season Power: C. Won WGA awards for Brooks, scores an Oscar nomination for Gene Wilder, won an Oscar for Brooks' writing.
Legacy: C+. Well, it gets to be compared with the shitty Broderick/Lane remake, which was a remake of the musical, which was better than the original movie. Not the best Brooks movie, but not the worst. Then again, "Springtime For Hitler." Kind of wonderful, no?