Never mind all those celebrity-packed public service announcements about gun control, or the sight of mega-producers like Harvey Weinstein railing against the National Rifle Association. Hollywood has learned to stop worrying and love the gun.
The industry’s affection for gunplay goes back generations. Big-screen heroes have been winning the day one bullet at a time for decades, from John Wayne to John McClane of “Die Hard” fame. Lately, waving a gun on screen is the best job insurance outside of a superhero gig or Kevin Hart movie.
The recent success of “American Sniper” made it clear how audiences respond when they see heroes holding such a weapon and, more importantly, knowing how to use it. And plenty of Hollywood types are taking notice.
Guns: The Savior of Aging Actors
Blame Liam Neeson if you must. The Irish actor’s 2008 film, “Taken,” rebranded him as an action hero despite his 50-something age bracket. Now, we’re treated to at least one new Neeson film a year brimming with gunfire. When you’re an actor within a few years of a Social Security check, you’ll take all the career perks you can get.
That might be what’s on the mind of Neeson’s peers. Last year, Sean Penn embraced a gun-free stance after canoodling with anti-gun advocate Charlize Theron. The actress inspired him to have an artist melt down his personal gun collection into a statue Penn sold for charity. Next month, movie goers will see Penn in … “The Gunman.” The trailer promises plenty of action, with Penn looking deadly with cold steel in hand. Should the box office gods smile on the film we may see Penn, again, co-starring with those “cowardly killing machines.”
The same holds true for Pierce Brosnan, an actor who seemed to leave action behind when he hung up his perfectly creased 007 tuxedo. Yet last year’s “The November Man” found him squatting on Neeson’s turf, firing away to save his skin. Talk of a sequel (“December Man?”) began weeks before the film reached theaters. Hollywood understands the lure of a gun-powered series.
Sequel chatter also greeted “The Equalizer,” Denzel Washington’s own bid for an aging action hero membership card. His character doesn’t rely solely on guns. He’s a one-man army with the mental ability to decode a fight in super slow-motion. Still, guns play a role in his handiwork. When the film managed to creep past the $100 million mark, the possibility of another “Equalizer” film seemed a lock.
Hollywood’s gun club isn’t an all-male affair. Salma Hayek’s bid for entry, “Everly,” hit VOD late last month. Hayek slings more lead than the Man with No Name in the trailer alone, all the while dressed in a series of provocative outfits. She could be the first actress with a gun-soaked franchise to call her own.
This Doesn’t Mean Hollywood Loves the NRA
None of those stars appeared in the 2013 “Demand a Plan” video for increased gun control measures. Beyonce, Jennifer Aniston, and Jamie Foxx, who personally questioned the role screen violence plays on society, put on their most serious faces to plead for more gun legislation.
The PSA may have backfired. A clever Web user quickly created a parody video that compared the stars in question with their ultra-violent screen appearances. Neeson himself invited similar critiques recently when he assailed the United States’s Second Amendment and the NRA while promoting “Taken 3.”
“I am totally for gun control in the U.S.,” said Neeson, who now is an American citizen. “I’ll give Britain its dues. When they had the Dunblane massacre in Scotland, within 24 hours the gun laws were changed so you could not have a handgun.”
Another NRA foe, Harvey Weinstein, once vowed to put his movies where his mouth is. Weinstein teased a new film early last year designed to slam the gun-rights group during a chat with Howard Stern on SiriusXM.
“They are going to wish they weren’t alive after I’m done with them,” he told the veteran radio host. Yet we haven’t heard much more about the project, purported to star Oscar-winner Meryl Streep, in the months that followed. Mere days after “American Sniper” shattered a flurry of box office records, Weinstein announced his company will produce a miniseries based on a famed U.S. military sniper.
This although Weinstein once vowed to hold a summit to study the impact screen violence has on society following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. In its wake, the producer even suggested his days making ultra-violent movies had come and gone.
“I have to choose movies that aren’t violent or as violent as they used to be,” he said. “I know for me personally … I can’t continue to do that. The change starts here. It has already. For me, I can’t do it. I can’t make one movie and say this is what I want for my kids and then just go out and be a hypocrite.”
That was before Weinstein enthusiastically backed the sniper miniseries and reconnected with director Quentin Tarantino for the upcoming “The Hateful Eight.” That film isn’t in theaters yet, but those who sat through the film’s 2014 script reading found the usual Tarantino violence in the story.
The upcoming presidential election might see gun control roar back into the spotlight. Celebrities could cut some new PSAs to share their position on the matter. Just don’t expect to see an end to gun violence on screens big and small, no matter who wins in November 2016.