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

By Kathy Benjamin | Think Pieces | June 26, 2012 |

By Kathy Benjamin | Think Pieces | June 26, 2012 |

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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