Warrior, opening this weekend, may look like a simple mixed-martial arts family drama action movie secretly sponsored by UFC to market its events. Far less obvious is how the film is a marketing tool secretly sponsored by the US military.
Indeed, the Marine Corps vetted the film's script as a condition of cooperation; Warrior features on duty uniformed soldiers as extras as well as a plot about a former Marine Iraq veteran.
The Nick Nolte-starring Warrior is just the latest film to function not only as entertainment, but also as PR. In fact, "Hollywood" is maybe the most successful, long-term viral branding camapign in history.
From this summer's Transformers 3 to next May's Battleship, the military has been sure to have a tight relationship with Hollywood as a way to not only turn on young men and women to sign up, but also to keep the armed forces in the good graces of the American public.
Warrior was also advance screened for a select group of Marines at Camp Pendleton. The last time brandchannel noted an advance screening at Pendleton's "Bulldog Box Office" was just a few months ago ("Retreat, Sell!") in March, when star Aaron Eckhart hosted a Marine audience at a special screening of Battle: Los Angeles, a movie also made with Marine cooperation (and input).
The Obama administration, just the latest of many Hollywood-savvy White Houses going decades back, clearly recognizes how powerful a tool Hollywood can be for the military. First Lady Michelle Obama has headed up an initiative called "Joining Forces" that aims to influence Hollywood's creatives to tell more positive military stories.
But the dirty secret that many fans of military films already know is that such stories needn't be intentionally positive. Most films that conventional wisdom would call "anti-war" are in fact excellent marketers of the military.
A perfect example is the film Jarhead, based on a Marine sniper's memoir of the first Gulf War. A tale of a strife in the Corps, Jarhead was widely seen as highly critical of Marine life and was derided by official Marine representatives, who said the film “does not provide a reasonable interpretation of military life.”
And yet, as goes just one of the numerous comments like it that can be found all over the web, one teen writes, "I have always wanted to go in the Military and every time i play Call of Duty, or watch Jarhead, or a War movie it makes me want to go over there even more."
Indeed, in the book Jarhead, Matthew Swofford writes that there is almost no such thing as an anti-war or anti-military movie about war, explaining that even films regarded as anti-military — such as Platoon, Apocalypse Now, and Full Metal Jacket — promote the military "because the magic brutality of the films celebrates the terrible and despicable beauty of their fighting skills." Further confirming Swofford's theory, the "Best War Movies" thread at Leatherneck.com includes Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan.
This sentiment is confirmed with the film Black Hawk Down, which tells the real life story of one of the modern Army's most tragic and deadly events. Yet, it isn't difficult to find a commenter who will respond to the question "Why do you want to join the US Army?" with "Because I saw Black hawk Down and want to be a Ranger."
So if even Blackhawk Down and Jarhead have the power to spur recruitment, how influential are films that the US military largely controls, like Warrior and Battle: Los Angeles?
With Battleship still nine months away, Director Peter Berg has already cut a thank you video especially for the military's USO arm: "In honor of our everyday heroes in the armed forces, the USO has partnered with Universal Pictures on the motion picture BATTLESHIP."
Meanwhile, even Warrior's title ties into the language of the Marine Corps. "Warrior" is a term often used at Marine events, including last month's Marine Corps "Warrior Ride." And a 2009 Marines commercial, reposted a few months ago on the Marines TV channel on Twitter, sure does help explain why the Marines saw Warrior as a perfect vehicle for a partnership.
Leaves one wondering what other former Marines or Army recruitment commercials are currently in development to become major motion pictures.