- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2013

Biblical drama isn’t the only entertainment genre with a stealth market invisible to Hollywood.

Here’s another: patriotic action thriller.

“Olympus Has Fallen,” an unapologetically flag-waving action spectacle centered around a North Korean plot to seize the White House and take the president hostage, took in $30.5 million at the box office over the weekend, beating consensus pre-release expectations in Hollywood by about 50 percent.

The critically praised and family-friendly “The Croods” finished first for the weekend, with $45 million.

Olympus,” which stars Gerard Butler as a cashiered Secret Service agent redeemed by his heroic stand against the North Koreans, tallied the biggest U.S. opening for an R-rated action film this year and grossed over 100 percent more than distributor First District’s next most lucrative debut, $14.3 million for last year’s remake of “Red Dawn.”

“It not only exceeded all our pre-weekend estimates, as the weekend has gone on, it’s gotten better,” Jim Orr, president of distribution for FilmDistrict, said of his company’s word-of-mouth hit. “This is the first action thriller in a while that’s gotten an A-minus CinemaScore, so it’s obvious that people are talking about it and enjoying it.”

Paul Dergarabedian, box office guru for Hollywood.com, declared himself “really surprised” by the film’s opening, given this year’s poor showings for R-rated action fare. “The marketing was good. Gerard Butler — he’s the real deal, he looks the part and everything,” Mr. Dergarabedian told The Associated Press. “And the theme of the movie, the fact that the president is under siege — it worked on ‘Air Force One.’ There’s something about that theme that works for audiences.”

Of course, Gerard Butler also starred in last year’s “Playing for Keeps” and “Chasing Mavericks.” Both bombed. Mr. Butler, who broke through in “300” (2007), hadn’t starred in a bona fide live-action hit since the 2009 romantic comedy “The Ugly Truth,” with Katherine Heigl.

Mr. Butler’s career was, to speak an ugly truth, ice cold.

Until the release of “Olympus Has Fallen,” whose tag line is: “When our flag falls, our nation will rise.”

As will, it seems, box office receipts.

It wouldn’t be the first time recently that a rousingly patriotic sleeper came out of nowhere to stun Hollywood insiders. Last year, “Act of Valor,” which starred active-duty Navy SEALs in a story based on actual, post-9/11 special forces missions in the war on terrorism, raked in $70 million on a budget of $12 million.

In interviews last year with The Washington Times and other outlets, “Valor’s” filmmakers positioned their film in the marketplace as a pro-U.S. military antidote to the stream of anti-Iraq War movies Hollywood released in the years following 9/11.

But even with the coaching from the filmmakers, industry pundits failed to discern behind the film’s breakout box office numbers an impetus from an under-served Red State movie audience yearning for an alternative to knee-jerk anti-Americanism on screen.

Some of them proved quite resourceful in the explanations they found for “Valor’s” unexpected success. Mr. Dergarabedian, for example cited the film’s use of real-life SEALs as a “good hook” in comments to The Times.

Of course, nobody in Hollywood predicted the cast of unknowns would be a good box-office hook before the film’s release. Maybe that’s because, um, a no-name cast is traditionally accounted a box office liability?

There are counterexamples, no doubt, of overtly pro-America action films that have flopped. And with an estimated production budget of $80 million, “Olympus” has a long way to go still before it turns a profit and can declare victory. It won’t be easy. Conventional industry wisdom holds that overtly nationalistic movies like “Olympus,” while cathartic for domestic audiences, don’t travel well to the international market, where more ambivalent audiences don’t share the same rooting interest in America prevailing over its enemies.

Still, when the same kind of audience keeps turning out for the same kind of movie while remaining invisible to the same kind of left-leaning Hollywood insiders, it’s probably safe to conclude: This market is not invisible; this industry is blind.

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