War movies are one of Hollywood's most beloved genres, right up there with romance, horror, and teal and orange exploding robots. Given this fact, you'd assume that by now the movie industry has vigilantly combed through history, sucking up all the interesting war stories that ever existed like a giant, script-writing vacuum, right?
Nope. While the film industry remains obsessed with constantly producing movies about wars that never even happened (come on guys, read your history books), many of history's wartime stories are still wandering around like unwanted pets in the cold, eager to be accepted into the warm, loving arms of Hollywood. For example ...
#5. The First Servile War
When it came to slaves, the Romans were like your 4-year-old brother and guinea pigs: they were all too eager to have a bunch, but they weren't very good at taking care of them. Rome was so continually flooded with enslaved war captives that it was usually cheaper to buy new slaves than it was to look after the ones you already had, so the poor bastards were often simply worked to death. And you thought you were a bad person for throwing out your cell phone instead of getting it repaired when the screen broke.
"Meh, it's clearly out of reach. Time to drive to the Apple store."
Eventually, a bunch of these slaves finally decided they were sick of being treated like unfashionably old cell phones, and in 135 B.C. on the island of Sicily, the slaves revolted. Led by a self-proclaimed king named Eunus and initially armed largely with farm implements and kitchen tools, the slaves held out for three years before finally being defeated by Roman forces. Did I mention that Eunus could apparently perform magic and breathe fire?
Obviously, there are many ways this war could go if you were making it into a movie. You could focus on Eunus himself as a main character, although since his armies had a tendency to kill Roman women and children, you might have to do a bit of historical scrubbing. Or your protagonist could be a Roman soldier sent to defeat the slave menace, who maybe feels a little emotionally torn over the maltreatment of the slaves versus the fact that the escaped slaves are killing babies. Either way, you'd have a guy who could breathe fire, so you could make it work.What We Got Instead
Recently, movieland has given us a wave of historical war movies about Greek and Roman times that carefully extract any traditional or mythological elements from the stories and replace them with "accurate" history. This is perfectly fine, assuming that you don't want your movies to have boring shit like "wizards" and "demigods," and instead really want to see people gazing seriously at each other under a heavy blue filter. Even the success of 300 didn't do much to buck the "history should be dull as hell" trend. Take these scenes from Centurion (2010) and The Eagle (2011):
Shown: the dark period of human history before the invention of the color red.
Servile War: Rise of the Magic Fire Breather Slave King Guy would give us an excuse to turn over a new leaf and keep all those mythological elements, as well as adding in a rosy hue or two. Just imagine a movie poster of Roman soldiers facing off against a human flamethrower and tell me this isn't a good idea.
#4. The Emu War
After World War I ended, Australia was trying to deal with a large amount of returning veterans, who were presumably wandering the streets looking surly. The government tried to give them plots of land to farm in Western Australia, but there was a problem: the farmland was already inhabited by emus -- huge, flightless birds that kept eating people's crops like they owned the place. Wanting to help its returning war heroes, and maybe getting nervous about a possible future veteran/emu alliance overthrowing the government, Australia decided to send in the military. (I've asked the local government here to do the same thing about squirrels, but it has refused, despite there being several veterans in the neighborhood.)
David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images
"Against animal cruelty"? Or "hate freedom"?
At first, the most ridiculous thing about the Emu War seems to be that it unfairly set animals against modern weaponry. Putting not-very-smart birds up against machine guns is like shooting fish in a barrel full of anti-fish poison. But then, in a "nature-finds-a-way" message right out of a far less scary version of Jurassic Park, the humans lost. As we've said before, by virtue of being fast, flightless birds that were more familiar with the terrain than the hapless soldiers, or maybe just by virtue of being animals in Australia, the emus defeated the humans after only two short, embarrassing campaigns.
How has mankind come this far without a single dramatic portrayal of the eternal battle between man and emu? Have you ever seen an emu? Didn't you immediately wonder if you could take it? If an Emu War movie is made, you'll be able to answer that question without getting arrested again. Plus, it would be fiction, so the filmmakers could even spice the story up a bit. Maybe add in some cassowary shock troops. Or a giant mechanical spider that turns out to be a giant real spider. After that, all you need is a tough-talking veteran who just wants to save his family farm from the emus, and a young army officer with a dark secret about why he hates emus so much, and the rest writes itself.What We Got Instead
This epic 2008 movie stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, is set in the early 1940s, and is about ... a whole bunch of stuff, I guess. I fast-forwarded through a lot of this film because it is 18,000 hours long, and the seasons were beginning to change, and I had to go prepare my livestock for the winter. According to the movie poster though, there are some planes, so I think it probably featured the Japanese bombing of Darwin during World War II. The movie only got 55 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so clearly things would have worked out better if it had focused on one of Australia's other violent conflicts, and replaced those planes with emus. In fact, there's still time for a special edition.
#3. The Battle of Blair Mountain
Things sucked for West Virginian mine workers back in the 1920s. Think about all the problems non-unionized Walmart workers have today, and then add in child labor and horrifically unsafe work conditions (by one estimate, you were safer as a soldier on the fields of World War I than you were in a West Virginia mine). Worse, the government, being quite fond of coal's role in the economy, usually came down heavily on the coal companies' side in any dispute. So miners in southern West Virginia decided to unionize, as others had already done around the country, and in response, the country's coal industry leaders called in to angrily skewer them on talk radio. Just kidding! Instead, they started spying on workers, firing and evicting union sympathizers from their homes, and occasionally gunning down pro-union people in broad daylight. And you thought Walmart was bad.
Chad Baker/Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty
"Welcome to Walmart. Please don't burn my children."
In 1921, thousands of "we don't really like being murdered" miners gathered at the foot of Blair Mountain in West Virginia, where they were met by an alliance of state police officers and mining officials that would have made Ralph Nader's head explode. Both sides were armed with machine guns, and private planes were called in to drop homemade bombs on the miners. The battle lasted five days, and ended only when the President sent in federal troops: the miners, many of them veterans themselves, had no desire to face off against the United States Army. In a movie, this could perhaps be shown by two guys on opposite sides hugging on a battlefield, and then a daisy blooming in the foreground to represent the slow eventual progress of the labor movement.What We Got Instead
Hollywood is full of activist liberals who love nothing more than starring in message movies, so you'd think a story about evil big business teaming up with the government to crush workers would have caught someone's eye by now. But a quick Google search reveals a wasteland of strip-mined nothingness. Instead, we just have a bunch of endless movies about McCarthyism:
OK, some people in Hollywood are still upset about the whole communist hunt thing, but you know what Sen. Joseph McCarthy didn't have? A machine gun. (Note: A movie about an alternate history where McCarthy actually did have a machine gun is also an acceptable idea for a movie.)