September 1st, 2023 | Grant Johnson

Ten Of Hollywood's Most Epic Backfires

Sometimes, Hollywood's progressive intentions have unintended consequences.
Woke Hollywood is destroying itself, as you can easily see by the box office from this summer’s movie season. Shoehorning in leftist messaging has been a long-held staple of Hollywood moviemaking, but in the post-Trump, progressive bubble of modern Hollywood, the ham-fisted preaching is destroying the entertainment industry. It’s not a complete wasteland out there. Some good stuff is to be found and should be supported and some Woke stuff doesn’t go broke… it succeeds (Barbie?). Hey, it’s a messy world.
A part of that messiness can be found in the distinction between filmmaker intentions and audience understandings. As Margaret Thatcher famously said, “The real world is conservative”, so general audiences tend to live in reality to a much larger degree than out-of-touch, Hollywood elites. As a result, the movies that are sometimes made with a progressive message and a Woke moralization, completely fail to land on target but succeed nonetheless for the opposite reasons intended.
Here are ten times that progressive pop culture intentions failed.

1. Star Wars

In the late 1960s, Hollywood was at a crossroad. The disruptive technology of television and the rise of a new generation of young people called ‘Baby Boomers’ left old Hollywood befuddled. Old Hollywood didn’t know how to make movies that people wanted to see, so they took some big risks and opened the door to a new cadre of filmmakers.
The Movie Brats consisted of a variety of now well-known names such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg but one of the biggest successes was George Lucas. Lucas hit it big with the film American Graffiti and used it as a launching pad for his next project, a space opera film called Star Wars.
His intention with this movie was to transpose the Vietnam War onto a sci-fi tableau and make a story about a rag-tag group of freedom fighters taking on the big, bad Galactic Empire. Lucas intended the Galactic Empire as a stand in for the United States and it’s aggressive and imperialistic war machine. The Rebel Alliance was supposed to be the plucky, Communist Vietnamese.
The cynical, jaded, America-hating 1970s had already reached a tipping point by the time Star Wars was released in 1977. In fact, it was Rocky, released the year before, that began the era of optimism and rejuvenation of American culture. Audiences didn’t want to watch anymore nuanced, and bleak takes on how corrupt and evil the Western World was, they wanted escapism and hope. A superficial reading of Star Wars offered exactly what the audiences wanted.
Much to Lucas’s chagrin, conservatives embraced Star Wars and viewed the “Evil Empire” as a stand in for the Soviet Union. The heroes of the movie reminded people of more individualistic cowboys and knights of old, struggling against all odds for freedom and peace. The American analog to the Rebel Alliance was more akin to The Sons of Liberty during the American Revolution, the Communists were better displayed as the uniform and faceless tyrants found in the evil Galactic Empire.
People love underdog stories and American audiences didn’t sit there thinking that they were team Death Star. It was the heroes of the rebellion that audiences identified with and even when the Vietnam allegory was made more explicit with the introduction of Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, audiences still didn’t bite.
Ronald Reagan gave a speech regarding the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” and this classic reading of Star Wars remained stuck in the culture ever since. George had to wait 15 years to make his next Star Wars trilogy in order to more accurately sell his progressive propaganda.

2. All in the Family

All in the Family was number one in the ratings for five years and ran for nine seasons. It was arguably the most important sitcom on television in the 1970s.
The premise was generational conflict between the old-timey, and explicitly racist, sexist, Archie Bunker and the new generation of progressives… hippy Baby Boomers. The show was set up to be a learning lesson for bigoted Americans to grow and mature into the proper progressive mindset that Hollywood aspired for them to adopt. They hoped the deplorables would transform into correct thinking hippies.
Storylines often put Archie Bunker at odds with a vast array of characters who relentlessly provoked and irritated him with their condescension and naivete. He in turn offended and angered them with his boorish refusal to conform to their norms. Hilarity ensued.
The unintended consequence of this was The Archie Bunker Effect. The more people identified with Archie Bunker to begin with (and agreed with his views), the more those views were reinforced by watching All In The Family, despite the moralizing.
So, producers for the show would have Archie Bunker spout opinions designed to ridicule the character, with the intention that people would laugh at him and learn a lesson in the opposite direction, but what would in effect happen, is that people would be laughing with him and rolling their eyes at the double takes of the appalled supporting characters. Here’s a smash cut of just a handful of outrageous scenes that would never be aired on prime-time television today.
In fairness to all involved, this unintended consequence probably worked in both directions for the benefit of everyone. It humanized and rationalized Archie Bunker points of view, while also offering situations in which those views could be put to the test, often with confrontational and hilarious outcomes. The subject matter hit hard and left audiences thinking, even if those thoughts weren’t the total progressive conditioning that producers hoped for.

3. Judge Dredd

Judge Dredd was an attempt by liberal minded artists and writers to mock authoritarianism and parody the Clint Eastwood-styled cop thrillers of the 1970s. It debuted in Great Britain just before Margaret Thatcher took over as Prime Minister and the creators thought they’d use the comic as a means to magnify and lampoon the times.
Taking place in a dystopian, urban landscape in the year 2099, Judge Dredd functions as judge, jury and executioner all rolled up into one. He’s a man of action that brings order to chaos and is merciless in his pursuit of justice.
A funny thing happened after initial publication however, readers enthusiastically and unironically supported Dredd. They cheered on this totalitarian figure dealing out justice with extreme prejudice, leaving Dredd’s creators conflicted. The conflict created some tremendous storylines throughout the book’s 45 year run and to this day, many fans still embrace Dredd without reservation or complications.

Back in the real world, social media is often ablaze with people insisting 'we need Judge Dredd' whenever there is any kind of civil unrest in the UK or US. I've spoken to cops at US comic conventions who without irony cite Dredd as a role model, an 'if only' fantasy of what professional life could be. You only have to look at US news reports to see how closely some police forces now resemble their colleagues in the armed forces. - The Politics of Judge Dredd

The Rousseau notion that people are perfect and the real problem is social systems that drive them into criminal activity is a hallmark of left-wing ideology. Dredd was supposed to be a laugh by progressives and instead has turned into a decades long conversation about the nature of power and violence and systems of rule and the strangeness of life lived in the modern era. The unintended consequence of audience reaction to this book has created a treasure trove of sophisticated comic-book literature over the years, from what could have simply been a Mad Magazine level satire. Check out this link if you’re interested in the books.
The movies (both Stallone’s Judge Dredd (1995) and Urban’s Dredd (2012) are both pretty fun too and lean even further into making Dredd a badass to admire, rather than a caricature to mock.

4. Rambo

“First Blood was written as an allegory of what was happening in America in the late 1960s, with soldiers returning from an unwanted war in Vietnam and being scorned, while racial divisions deepened,” Morrell explains. “Rambo has become a litmus test. Some people see the novel and first film as anti-war – which is how I see them. But others see the book and second and third films as supporting gung-ho military.” – David Morrell

When the first Rambo movie hit the big screens in 1982 it was a social scientist’s worst nightmare. The film was full of subtext and messaging. The overall theme being an anti-war, anti-establishment polemic that casts the plight of military veterans (especially Vietnam veterans) sympathetically. The problem with good intentions is that they sometimes lead elsewhere, and as Francois Truffaut famously stated: there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie.
As the action escalates in First Blood, audiences revelled in watching Rambo stab cops and outsmart trackers. Rambo terrifies the National Guard and mainstream media is shown to fully embrace “Fake News” reporting. Rambo goes on to wreak havoc in a small town, blowing up a gas station and taking out electrical grids. The town sheriff (villain of the piece) isn’t corrupt, he just isn’t sympathetic to Rambo and forces him to get lunch out of town. For this he gets his police station destroyed and his legs shot up.
Audiences went with it 100% and instead of acknowledging the nuances of the film, they just threw their fists in the air and cheered on the anti-social mayhem. The random and wanton destruction of one man done wrong played heavily into average viewers revenge fantasies.
The sequel in 1985 brings back John Rambo in order to send him into Vietnam…”in order to win this time.” In the Reagan era of mid-80s America, audiences celebrated the one-man army of John Rambo with glee. The message of “the government let our boys down due to politics and money” which was aspired to by the film was overshadowed with, “Rambo… fuck yeah!”
By the time Rambo 3 rolled around, the one-man army trope was almost a parody, featuring Rambo squaring off against a huge chunk of the Soviet military in Afghanistan.
Stallone has tried to make Rambo more than a jingoistic war-machine, but in all five Rambo films he ends up embracing violence and unleashing it with extreme prejudice to solve whatever problem is the target of the movie. This has led to an impression of Rambo as the true spirit of America, the rugged individual taking matters into their own violent hands in order to distribute justice and vengeance without mercy.
Not exactly what they were aiming for back in ’82.

5. Death Wish

The point of the novel Death Wish is that vigilantism is an attractive fantasy but it only makes things worse in reality. By the end of the novel, the character (Paul) is gunning down unarmed teenagers because he doesn’t like their looks. The story is about an ordinary guy who descends into madness. - Brian Garfield

In the early 1970s, the United States was plagued with high crime and a lot of early-era Wokeness. Movies like Straw Dogs and Death Wish portrayed idealistic liberal progressives as wormy and naïve; the protagonists would then experience brutal victimization which would radicalize them into right-wing brutes. There might be some kind of “violence begets violence” or “can’t we all just get along” type overarching messaging, but the point was always lost once the protagonist mans up and starts kicking ass.
Charles Bronsan kicks a lot of ass over the course of the Death Wish series. (Death Wish 3 is particularly egregious… featuring Bronsan literally just running through a ghetto with a heavy machine gun shooting at everyone he sees.) It’s this first movie, however, that at least attempts to be realistic and introspective.
It didn’t matter though, people loved watching a liberal get brutally educated and then revenge-blasting his way through dirty New York.

6. Wall Street

“The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge…has marked the upward surge of mankind.” – Gordon Gekko in Wall Street

The “greed is good” speech is the pivotal takeaway that many in the audience left the theatres with. The year was 1987 and the booming American (Reagan) economy was something that hadn’t quite been seen in the U.S. for a long time. One big change that people experienced was the financialization of the economy in the form of a booming stock market.
Stockbrokers on Wall Street used to be personified as button down, banker types, boring number-crunchers. The hawkish, free-trading, ultra-capitalism of the 1980s changed all that and it was in 1987 that a face was put to the industry. Michael Douglas, in the prime of his career, portrayed Gordon Gekko… the villain of Wall Street.
Oliver Stone directed this masterpiece with the intention of delivering it as a warning sign to Americans that the vultures of capitalism were undermining the United States and that we needed to stay true to the roots of decency, honesty, community, unions, and fair dealing.
The movie ends with both the corrupted hero and the unrepentant villain going to jail, with the hero’s father telling him that he should focus on “creating, instead of living off the buying and selling of others.”
The problem with the explicit message is that it was overshadowed by how charismatic and bad ass Michael Douglas was as the villain. His winner-take-all philosophy of life was imbued with so much vitality and fervor that it was hard for viewers not to be sucked into his ostentatious world.
A generation of stockbrokers were inspired to be like Gordon Gekko and if anything, the trajectory of 1987 got exponentially more extreme. Eventually this led to the financial crash of 2008/09 and Stone made a sequel with Michael Douglas reprising his character. The second time around the explicit message may have sunk in a little better, but the damage was already thoroughly done.

7. The Matrix

When The Matrix debuted in 1999, it was a slow burner at first. As the weekends ticked by it became apparent to audiences that they were witnessing something extraordinary. The storyline, the stylized stunts, and the groundbreaking “bullet time” effects made this movie a masterpiece.
It also introduced us to Red Pill/Blue Pill dynamic.
Without getting too bogged down in meme explanations, the Red Pill is symbolic of seeing the world how it really is, while the Blue Pill is a pill for people to comfortably view the world as they would like it to be. Red Pill equals truth (often harsh truth), while Blue Pill equals lies (often noble lies).
The intention of the filmmakers was to make this a gender allegory for transexuals. People as they are, versus who they truly feel themselves to be. Instead, audiences tended to read The Matrix as a Christ parable. The Red Pill/Blue Pill thing was eventually adopted by the Alt-Right and Men’s Rights Activists.
It’s a testament to the film that people can read into it from such different directions, but the conservative interpretation has dominated the cultural landscape. The directors of The Matrix eventually switched sexes and identify as female now. At the time of this writing “Red Pilled” is still utilized in the right-wing sense of truth seeking.

8. Starship Troopers

Robert Heinlein was a weird guy. He flipped from being a far-left extremist to a far-right extremist, with lots of questionable ideology in between. He wrote the novel Starship Troopers in 1959 and it’s most notable as a sci-fi war story in which Fascists are the good guys.
In the 1990s, Hollywood decided to turn it into a movie. Director Paul Verhoeven of Robocop (1987) fame was tasked with bringing it to life on the big screen. He wasn’t a fan…

Verhoeven tried to read the novel but "stopped after two chapters because it was so boring ... it is really quite a bad book ... it's a very right-wing book". He had Neumeier summarize the narrative for him, and found it militaristic, fascistic, and overly supportive of armed conflict, which clashed with Verhoeven's childhood experiences in the German-occupied Netherlands during World War II. Verhoeven determined that he could use the basic plot to satirize and undermine the book's themes by deconstructing the concepts of totalitarianism, fascism, and militarism, saying: "All the way through I wanted the audience to be asking, 'Are these people crazy?' - Wikipedia

Audiences didn’t ask, “Are these people crazy?” They missed Verhoeven’s too clever by half satire and instead watched a fairly janky, melodramatic action film with weird undertones throughout. It wasn’t well received, and only the most cinephile of critics appreciated the irony of the statement.
Over the years many people have watched the film and in many cases, the explicit message has overpowered the implicit intentions. Clips like this throwaway scene led viewers into considering a point of view that they may have never considered before. It was new to me when I saw this movie in theatres back in 1997. It planted a seed that can’t be satirized into dormancy. In some ways it led me to Hans-Hermann Hoppe.
The result today is a movie that is either awkwardly acknowledged by chin-stroking liberals as “very clever” or embraced as a cheesy kick-ass, right-wing, sci-fi action movie by people who miss the message. The diametrically opposite unintended consequence of Starship Troopers is even better demonstrated in…

9. American History X

American History X is a controversial movie with a long backstory. It was made shortly after the Rodney King riots and aimed to be a powerful polemic against racism in the United States. The makers of the film did a great job adding depth and nuance to the film, but it too suffers from the Starship Troopers problem.
Scenes like this one between a father and son at the dinner table were so well done intellectually, that despite trying to use the emotionalism of racial epithets to override the father’s main message…the points still stand. If you dig deeper into this scene you could read it as a slightly jealous blue-collar father not realizing that the nature of his argument is itself what Derek’s teacher (who with two PhDs is perhaps better qualified on the subject) is teaching. What he is teaching is that there is a bigger picture when considering all things, the same notion that Derek’s father espouses, but the implicit message is too nuanced and is overshadowed for the viewer by the father’s explicit messaging.
Here is another scene that, unfortunately, goes on too long and undermines the nature of what is trying to be conveyed. From a messaging point of view, this is counterproductive, but from a film perspective it creates shades of gray that make this movie complex and far more interesting, unintended or not. (Read the comments under the video and you’ll see what I mean.)
It’s not just the implied themes that are overshadowed however, as even the explicit messaging of this movie becomes unintentionally reversed. The story is about a firefighter father getting murdered on the job by black drug dealers. Ed Norton then becomes a racist and kills two black guys trying to steal his truck. He goes to jail and renounces his racism. He convinces his little brother to do the same. Then his little brother gets killed by a black kid. The end.
They were going for a “violence begets violence” type of message with that ending, but just read the plot and think about what average viewers…many who may not be as liberal or as sophisticated as the filmmakers…might be left thinking. This is one of the biggest problems with progressive types…they are terribly blind to their own ideology and fail to see how others might perceive their intentions.
American History X suffers badly from this fault.
Lastly, as an aside, Ed Norton at his most racist is jacked and feral and badass. Before he’s a full blown Neo-Nazi he is portrayed as a weak and whiny victim. After he rejects racism near the end of the film, he walks around jaded and world-weary. The pure impression of a character goes a long way towards influencing audiences. It’s style over substance when branding for human consumption. If you want people to learn not to be racist, don’t make the main character most charismatic at his worst.

10. Law Abiding Citizen

Gerard Butler starred in this tale of vengeance back in 2009. His home gets invaded and the men who do it rape and kill his family. He survives and is a broken and ruined husk of his former self. The system lets him down and he becomes demoralized and disillusioned. Then he plans revenge.
This is a great movie and pits Jamie Foxx as the hero attorney and Butler as the vigilante. Butler gets progressively more villainous and ultimately ends up plotting to blow up City Hall for their corrupt transgressions. This is supposed to make the viewer feel that he has crossed the line and just gone crazy and unhinged. Funny thing though, that’s not really the response from the audience.
People were still on Butler’s side right up until the end. They wanted to see him succeed and blow-up City Hall. No matter how anti-social and villainous Butler became… the audience was with him to the end.

“I always thought there would come a certain point in the movie where people would turn against Clyde (Butler’s role) when he starts killing innocent people, but it was amazing the vengeance that were in the audience. They were like “no”, he was so badly wronged and because you did feel his humanity and because Jamie did push it in the other direction, it was amazing how far my character could go and people still wanted him to win and get away with it. That’s not how I imagined it!” – Gerard Butler in GQ

People were hoping to see City Hall bombed and the filmmakers let them down by not letting it happen.


Finally in Samuel Goldwyn’s office, the second writer outlined his idea. “Mr. Goldwyn,” he said, “this is a wonderful opportunity to point out labor’s battle against capitalism. You have a chance here to bring a great message to the people.”
Goldwyn looked at him. “Messages, messages,” he said. “From Western Union you get messages. From me you get pictures.” – Reporter Aleen Wetstein in 1940
Filmmakers are always going to bring biases, assumptions and values to the work they produce. It’s inescapable. Clumsy proselytizing is always going to have strange effects on audiences however, and it’s usually best to be as subtle as possible or wildly boldly explicit in terms of what you’re trying to say…otherwise the takeaway can be lost in translation.
In the meantime, everything listed above is worth checking out. It can be appreciated correctly… or incorrectly, as you see fit.



Our Normal Is Wrong

We've been doing it wrong for hundreds of years and it doesn't look like we are going to stop.

JULY 2023



The Word "WOman" Is Next

A hypothetical discussion is being had among some fringe activists and academics about erasing the word. 

JUNE 2023


MAY 2023


APRIL 2023