Fanciful boy wizards and green ogres, move over: Hollywood's about to get serious. As election season heats up, several politically incendiary films are heading to the big screen.
From Michael Moore's (search) anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" to the disaster flick "The Day After Tomorrow," Tinseltown is putting out several movies that touch on hot-button political issues.
Election experts are skeptical about films' ability to impact the outcome of a race, but they say these movies do have the potential to rile voters and help mold debates.
"I think we can overstate the impact of how many people might see [these films] ... but they can help shape views over time. They have a more subtle impact," said Center for Voting and Democracy (search) Executive Director Rob Richie.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" and John Sayles' upcoming movie "Silver City," which stars Chris Cooper (search) as a politician who is a thinly veiled mockery of President Bush, are specifically taking aim at the current administration. Both Moore and Sayles have said that getting their films into theaters before the election is a priority. Although Disney recently backed out of distributing "Fahrenheit 9/11," few believe the film will have trouble finding another studio to put it out. "Silver City" is slated to debut on Sept. 16.
Political watchers say the famously left-wing Moore, whose film depicts the president as bungling and explores the ties between the Bush and the Bin Laden families, will be preaching to the converted.
"[Moore's film] is not going to hit much of a crossover audience," said Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs (search), a Washington think tank.
With voters roughly split down the middle in the race between Bush and Sen. John Kerry, the election may hinge on a small number of undecided voters in key "swing" states. Richie said films like "Fahrenheit 9/11" won't have much impact on those undecided voters.
"The number of persuadable voters is theoretically 25 percent, but any hard-nosed campaign organizer would say it's 10 percent," said Richie. "Those swing voters will be hit by so many messages. The number of them who happen go to a Michael Moore movie in Ohio is going to be small."
But Richie pointed out that Moore is an expert self-promoter and the recent brouhaha over its controversial subject and who will distribute the film has caused "Fahrenheit 9/11" to be all over the news.
"More people will see that [now] than would have ever seen the movie," he said.
Whether or not their films impact voters, Moore and Sayles aim to be muckrakers — and to take advantage of a heightened political atmosphere.
"Whenever there's a lot of attention on politics, it's a good time to put a political movie out," Sayles told Entertainment Weekly.
As for "The Day After Tomorrow," executives at 20th Century Fox, which is distributing the film, say environmentalists are taking advantage of the film's election-year release date to bring attention to global warming
"Obviously different groups have different agendas. Some people think of [the film] as a political agenda. We don't think that," said Jeffrey Godsick, vice president of publicity at 20th Century Fox (search).
In the disaster movie, which opens Memorial Day weekend and could be a summer blockbuster, the culprit is global warming. Moveon.org is calling it "the movie the White House doesn't want you to see," and former Vice President Al Gore has used it as a reason to speak out against Bush's environmental policies.
Richie said that kind of publicity can actually help direct political discussion.
"[Global warming] is not going to become more important than Iraq or how people feel about the economy," he said. "But the debate about it might be put more on the table."
Part of the reason these movies are seen as politically partisan is that in an election year everything can be interpreted as relating to the race.
"People start putting everything through the lens of the election — even when it would normally be controversial but wouldn't be seen as partisan," said Richie.
The films coming out all promote liberal policies, but Felling contends that Hollywood isn't as concerned with politics as it is with the bottom line.
"In the language of Hollywood, it is not the red states or the blue states, but the green dollar," he said. "If there's money to be made in bashing a liberal politician, they would not hesitate."
Felling cited "Wag the Dog" (search) and "Primary Colors" as examples of films that poked fun at President Clinton.
Besides, Richie said, even political films that make a big splash don't affect the agenda for long.
Michael Moore's anti-gun movie "'Bowling for Columbine' was a hit and won an Oscar, but the issue of gun control is nowhere in this election," he said.
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