Why Can't The War of 1812 Have Its Own Blockbuster?

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Why Can't The War of 1812 Have Its Own Blockbuster?

By Kathy Benjamin | Think Pieces | June 26, 2012 | Comments ()


Last week was the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812. Did you know that? You might have read the headline of a small news article on the subject and then moved on. The War of 1812 is the red-headed stepchild of our wars, rated even below the Korean War, which is weird because unlike in Korea we kicked serious ass. And it would make a great movie, yet the best we've ever gotten is a small miniseries in 1999. Hollywood is missing out, most likely just because we barely get taught the war in school and no one really gives a damn about it.

This is how we celebrated the bicentennial of the start of the Revolutionary War:

New York!

Washington, D.C.!


This is how we celebrated the bicentennial of the war that actually guaranteed our independence:


Wait, guaranteed our independence? That's right. While we have basically forgotten about it now, at the time this war was so important it was known as the Second War of Independence.

It worked like this: In 1776, Britain was a new mother (or "mum," if you will) whose baby started kicking and screaming to get down because it wanted to play. Finally, it (we) got down and after taking some time to steady itself started running around and breaking shit. Mommy was not happy at that point, so after a few a few minutes she swooped in and tried to scoop the out of control and increasingly inconvenient child back up. That is basically the War of 1812. Our independence was becoming a real problem to our parent country's trading interests. If Britain had won there is a good chance America would not have remained a sovereign nation. (Luckily for us, that new mother was also babysitting an older child at the same time who was much faster and even more problematic that we were. His name was Napoleon.)

So already we have drama. We MUST win this war or all our great freedoms, our amazing Constitution, everything could be gone forever! Movie audiences would eat that shit up. This war has something for everyone: naval battles, skirmishes with Native Americans, and the invasion of Canada, which, if we're honest, is something modern Americans would probably enjoy doing, just to see what happens. Then we've got the English enemy. We love fighting the English so much that we cast them as the bad guys in movies that have nothing to do with England. Here we have a legit, historically accurate reason to kick their asses.

History is only so interesting though, so fortunately there are lots of explosions. First you've got the burning of Washington, D.C. With today's movie technology it would make Gone with the Wind's burning of Atlanta look like a campfire. And of course you have the dramatic scene where Dolly Madison (played by Lena Dunham, obviously) cuts that iconic portrait of George Washington out of its frame and takes it with her as she and James flee the burning city.


Then there is the Battle of Baltimore. Frankly, this is reason alone for a producer to jump on making a movie about the war. Right when things start to hit a lull in the middle of the film and the audience is beginning to remember that they know nothing about this period of history, we get a dramatic retelling of the battle that inspired our national anthem. In real life the "battle" barely counted as one and an accurate retelling would be pretty boring, but since when has that stopped Hollywood? Just imagine the (exaggerated) fighting raging on in the darkness, smoke blinding everything, and then, just as dawn breaks, Francis Scott Key looks up and sees the flag still flying over the fort the British were trying to take. Cue Whitney Houston's version of the Star Spangled Banner. Not a dry eye in the house.

And finally we get to the genuinely exciting part. The end of the war is what is really worthy of retelling, even without the added drama a movie version would obviously include. Once the British defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo (a scene the director should definitely put in the film, perhaps with the Duke of Wellington saying, after his victory, "Now on to America!" and all the troops cheer) they threw all their might into their other war across the Atlantic. And we started to lose, badly. The audience gets concerned; it isn't looking good for us. What if we blow it?! But then the tide turns. We start to win every battle. Finally the British surrender.

And that's when we get the bit of the movie all the men in America will drag their wives and girlfriends to the cinema for. Because after Teddy Roosevelt our most badass president was Andrew Jackson, and now we have the battle that would make him a household name. Jackson's troops took on the British in the Battle of New Orleans and won the most decisive victory of the war. Sure the peace treaty had been signed a few days earlier and we weren't technically at war anymore, but no one managed to get that information to New Orleans in time. So one of the greatest victories in American history ensues, driving home the point that we were going to win no matter what. This is where we get sequel potential as well, with Jackson looking off into the distance as the credits roll, to all the Indian slaughtering presidential stuff that awaits him.

So get on this, Hollywood. You can have all of my ideas for free. But hurry up; this was a short war and if you want to have something to show for the 200th anniversary of our victory you need to release this in February 2015 (Valentine's Day weekend, to be exact, so make sure some sort of love story is central to the theme.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Michael

    The author of this article needs to read a history book. The Americans started the war by invading Canada, and it ended in a stalemate. No land changed hands. Hence why everyone forgets about it and no big films have been made of it.

  • this is one of the most atrociously researched articles i've ever read. couldn't you have at least checked out wikipedia before writing it?

  • Ballymena Bob

    The War of 1812 (no, not the important one in Russia, the other shit one in America)

    Americans: "Hey, the Brits are busy fighting France, let's take ALL of the Americas while their backs are turned."
    Brits: "No , you can't have it all. We'll teach you some manners by taking some of your cities."
    Americans: "Runaway!"
    Brits: "Eww! They built their capital in the middle of a swamp. Let's burn this shithole and go home."
    Americans: "Attack!"
    Brits: "We're already leaving. Jesus, find someone else to fight with."
    Americans: "Kill all the Indians."

    Fifty Years Later (roughly)

    Americans: "We're running out of Indians. Let's kill each other."

  • Mavler

    Having spoken with Korean War vets back in my Army days, I would say that a whole lot more ass got kicked over there, despite both wars basically being stalemates. The high fire rate on our machine guns is insensitively, and unofficially referred to as "Chinese" (as in "Hey man, put it on Chinese!") in reference to the fighting over there.

    Also, having grown up 50 miles east of Detroit, my Province of Ontario birth certificate and Canadian citizenship pretty much take away any bragging rights you might think you have. It's the red-headed step child of wars for a reason.

  • wojtek

    How is this not a Storytellers piece? Did that line get discontinued when I wasn't looking? :)

  • Uriah_Creep

    Well now that you're looking, Wojtek, we need another of your fine pieces. (No pressure.)

  • Devil Child

    The War of 1812 was one of the most embarrassing things the country has ever been involved in.

    We started the war because we were mad at the English because they spiked their trade deals with us due to our business with the French, something they agreed to stop doing a few weeks after the declaration of war was already signed. We lost every major land battle, and only won the major sea battles because the part of the English navy that was actually worthwhile was busy fighting Napoleon.

    The saddest part? We didn't even win the war. It ended with no territory lost or gained, and no changes of terms between the U.S. and the British/Canadians. And since it was a proxy war for the Napoleonic conflict, technically, we lost.

    I'm glad the English didn't have a victory that netted them our territory, but the war didn't need to happen at all.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Damn dirty Disqus doubleposts

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Spiking? I recently read a piece about this where it was mentioned that British line ships and privateers were capturing and sinking US trade ships crossing the Atlantic ocean.

  • Devil Child

    True, but that policy was also stopped a few weeks before the war broke out.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    A message which probably didn't reach the US government before they declared war.

  • Mitchell Hundred

    I've always gotten the impression that the War of 1812 was a tie, since neither side gained any territory in the end, or won an overwhelming number of battles.

  • Judge_Snyder

    It was a tie in the sense that at the end of it everyone was back where they started, but since the nation that started the war gained nothing from doing so other than a burned out capital you'd have to realistically call it a defeat for them.

  • Damn Redocats

    So France defeated Russia when they marched into Moscow and burned it?

  • Azara

    You seem to have got a little confused about the date of the battle of Waterloo. Since it took place in June 1815, and the peace treaty that ended the War of !812 was signed in December 1814, you'll have to leave Waterloo out of the plot.

  • googergieger

    Blockbusters? What are they good for? Absolutely nothing.

  • Mavler

    Say it again!

  • John G.

    If this involved a single Canadian in anything that can be spun into anything even remotely positive, even for half a second, than I assure you the Canadians celebrate it with great fervor and will talk your ear off all night about its relevance.

  • Groundloop

    Actually most people in Canada make no fuss at all about the The War of 1812, even though the case can be made that it was our war of independence (it took over 50 years for Confederation, but the seeds had been sown). Yes there are preserved battle sites with reenactments, but even those are pretty low key affairs. As a people we tend not to make too big a deal about having made stuff go boom hundreds of years ago. That being said, if the Canucks win (or lose) The Stanley Cup, some some shit is gonna get set on fire.

  • Guest

    Indeed, most Canadians couldn't have told you what the war was about until this summer's rather tepid Bicentennial news. And they only know the name "Laura Secord" because: chocolates!

  • Groundloop

    To be fair, that is some tasty chocolate*.

    *not really

  • Guest

    I won't turn down their chocolate mint bar if someone offers me one. But I'd sooner hit Godiva.

  • John G.

    Strange. Every Canadian I've ever met has told me about the time they burned down the white house.

  • Guest

    You meet a lot of edumacated Canadians then. Or very jingoistic ones...

  • Dewdney

    It's because of the Arrogant Worms.

  • I think any Canadian that has even a passing interest in history knows about the war of 1812. Our consciousnesses of the war certainly pales in comparison to America's fixation with their revolution, but its pretty much the only war on our soil that wasn't British vs French (which is a pretty sticky subject since they still live here) so we like to talk about it. Hell, I remember in the sixth grade we had to do a speech on an inspirational figure, and I chose Isaac Brock.
    We like to bring up burning down the white-house in particular because it reminds of that sweet scene from "Independence Day", Also, its a pretty sweet thing to hold over your neighbors.

  • John G.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying anything positive about the US. The US is worse, because they celebrate fictionalized versions of everything in their history. At least Canadians have read history. But how many times to I have to hear about the time in World War II when some Newfoundlanders rescued a few US soldiers in a downed airplane?

  • Sara_Tonin00

    This was just about defending our freedoms, not establishing them, so that's good, but not necessarily something to celebrate. Most people don't "celebrate" wars - maybe remember and acknowledge them.

    But up until a couple of years ago I'm (almost) ashamed to admit that I thought Tchaikovsky was a big fan of this particular throwdown.

  • The Buccaneer (1958)

    "Yul Brynner as Lafitte, Charles Boyer in the Akim Tamiroff role and Claire Bloom. Charlton Heston plays a supporting role as Andrew Jackson."


    The Battle of New Orleans.


  • Guest

    "Last week was the 200th anniversary of the start of the War of 1812."

    CBC reported that Canadian naval personnel were ordered NOT to bring up the war or the White House thing before they disembarked at Manhattan during Fleet Week. I kind of lol'd. Such polite sailors.

  • Fredo

    Closest we've ever gotten was The Buccaneer with Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson and Yul Brynner as the titular Buccaneer, Jean Lafitte.

    But I think I'm one of about 100 persons to have seen that movie.

  • You beat me to it!

  • Tinkerville

    Can we pretty please include that little thing where we surrendered Detroit without firing a single shot in defense? All because they wanted to make the war popular among the people and then.. woops.. lost a whole capitol city? It'll be a rousing call to arms!

  • To be fair, if the Canadians invaded today, America would probably still surrender Detroit without a single shot.

  • branded_redux

    Canadian history doesn't prevent the making of this movie. It actually opens the door for a Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima-style dual-telling.

    Think Land of the Free and Home of the Eh.

  • Gauephat

    By the time the US wins any big victories, the war had already been ended. Not exactly a sexy conclusion.

  • TheOtherGreg

    Kathy, please read this: http://www.theatlantic.com/nat...

    Hint: it starts with "Forget the bombs bursting in air over Baltimore. The conflict actually started with a botched U.S. invasion of Canada. ".

  • spoobnooble

    Thanks for the Atlantic link. As a Canadian, I found this Pajiba article to be really strange. Granted, Canada never "won" this war in the way that we were taught in school (partly because Canada did not exist as a nation at the time), but to claim the war was about American independence rather than an attempt by the U.S. to annex British territories seems like propaganda rather than history.

    On the other hand, ask a Canadian about Louis Riel and his importance in Canada's history and you're going to get any number of answers, depending on what part of the country they grew up in. History's funny that way.

  • mograph

    Um ... no.
    What are your sources on this? American history books? Tsk.

  • QueeferSutherland

    Actually, Emo Sparkler Kid isnt how we celebrated the 1812 bicentennial. Baltimore hosted a massive event (1812 Sailibration) that damm near shut down the city for a week. The Blue Angels performed right over the Inner Harbor and massive centuries old warships arrived at Fort McHenry. The whole thing was quite impressive and drew around a million people.

    Or, to phrase it another way: AMURIKA!

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    Strange, Canadian history doesn't tell quite the same story that you're relating here. Is...is that a painting of the White House burning?

  • Mitchell Hundred

    Whenever people talk about it up here, the fact that our troops burned down the White House is the single most cited tidbit that they bring up. I guess it's noteworthy as our brief shining moment of badassery.

  • Bert_McGurt

    At least she mentioned the burning of Washington. That little detail seems to somehow get missed most of the time.

    Though what ISN'T touched upon is the fact that a lot of the non-Aboriginal population of Canada at the time (and some of the mixed-blood population as well) were French or of French descent. In Quebec and Acadia, where the French population remained high, the colonists were rather unmotivated to fight on the side of their natural English enemy. At the onset of the War, it had been only around 50 years since the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the Siege of Louisbourg, and the expulsion of the Acadians. Considering that most of those expelled Acadians came to live in Louisiana, I'm not surprised that Jackson easily kept New Orleans.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yeah, first White House burned down not long after it was built.

  • Duvall

    Canada has history? I thought they just had an oral tradition.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    They do. They just tend to be on the getting end of the oral tradition as opposed to the giving end.

  • e jerry powell

    My kind of oral tradition, dammit.

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