Zero Dark Thirty is getting massive Oscar buzz for its taut depiction of one of the biggest headlines of the century. But you don’t have to think back very far to remember the actual events themselves ― Osama bin Laden was killed just last year in 2011, and already there’s a major motion picture dramatizing what happened.
It’s not the first Hollywood product that has some moviegoers wondering how soon is “too soon.” Here are 10 other historical movies that had a rapid turnaround ― maybe too rapid, in some cases.
1. United 93 & World Trade Center
Twin movies about the Twin Towers? Both Paul Greengrass and Oliver Stone released movies about that fateful day in 2006, but told very different stories. Stone’s World Trade Center centers on two firemen (Nicolas Cage and Michael Pena) trapped in one of the buildings; Greengrass’ United 93 is about the heroic acts of the passengers on an ill-fated flight that never reached its intended target. Stone surprised audiences by being conventional rather than controversial for once, while Greengrass made one of the most gripping dramas (and best films) of the century thus far, even casting some parts with the real figures who played a part that day.
2. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
This drama starring Sandra Bullock as a woman who loses her husband (Tom Hanks) in the 9/11 attacks was released in 2011, ten years after the events themselves. But rather than a bracing look at the true horrors of the tragedy, as previous films were, this was a sickly-sweet melodrama that used September 11 to tug at heartstrings ― cutesy kiddie shlock and still-shocking images of burning buildings and falling bodies simply don’t mix (despite the film’s baffling nomination for Best Picture).
3. Game Change
Sarah Palin became a media superstar in 2008 overnight; by this year’s election just four years later, she was already a has-been. This HBO movie didn’t help matters by depicting her as completely incompetent and in way over her head ― and somehow, we doubt Sarah is much of a Julianne Moore fan these days. (Or Tina Fey, for that matter.)
Speaking of mocking Republican politicians ― Oliver Stone strikes again! The Nixon and JFK director made some of the most notable films about U.S. president out there, but that was long after they’d left office. This odd little biopic was released while “W” was still the leader of the nation (albeit a much despised one). Surprisingly, the film was actually pretty sympathetic to the younger George Bush (played by the much-more-likeable Josh Brolin) ― not exactly the skewering many Bush-haters expected. (Maybe that’s why the film wasn’t a hit.)
5. Farenheit 911
Michael Moore took a much more direct approach to lambasting Bush with his documentary, released in 2004, which hoped to sway the results of the upcoming election. (Which it obviously didn’t.) The doc is certainly manipulative and possibly somewhat inaccurate in a few of its facts, but that didn’t prevent it from picking up a Palme d'Or at Cannes (though it didn’t show up at the Oscars).
6. Margin Call
There was a movie about the recession even before Occupy Wall Street came together. Released in 2011, the movie stars Demi Moore, Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, and Penn Badgley as investment bankers who become aware that the stock market is about to take a nosedive on the eve of the financial collapse. Can they possibly stop it? Well, we all know how this one ends.
7. All The President’s Men
Not all fast turnaround dramas have been in recent years. The 1976 Best Picture winner took a similarly ripped-from-the-deadlines approach to the Watergate scandal involving President Nixon, which saw him taking an early retirement in 1974, just two years before the release of the movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the reporters who dug up the truth.
8. A Mighty Heart
This 2007 drama depicts the 2002 kidnapping (and eventual beheading) of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Pakistani terrorists, told through the eyes of his wife (Angelina Jolie). Despite the uplifting title, the bleak subject matter and grim ending kept most audiences away, possibly because it was just too soon to see such a story when similar tragedies can be seen on the news.
Gus Van Sant’s controversial Palme d’Or-winning drama depicts a school shooting loosely modeled on Columbine, complete with graphic violence and many on-screen deaths. It was released in 2003, just four years after Columbine, and was the subject of scrutiny after being viewed by another teen killer, who murdered seven people in the 2005 Red Lake High School shooting. Given that violence in films, music, and video games has often been pointed do as desensitizing teens to actual violence, this film broaches a particularly sensitive subject and still makes many viewers uneasy in the wake of too-similar tragedies since (including last week’s Sandy Hook shooting).
The Zodiac Killer first struck in 1968 (that we know of), so David Fincher's terrifying 2007 suspense drama (starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal) can’t really be labeled “too soon.” But given that the cops never definitively identified the killer, it’s chilling to think that the Zodiac killer could still have been alive and well enough to check out the movie in theaters himself.
11. Liz & Dick
Elizabeth Taylor passed away in 2011, so it may very well have been too soon for a “scandalous” biopic about her affair with Richard Burton. But even if not, it was definitely too soon for Lindsay Lohan to play her ― the twentysomething actress plays a woman in her fifties with no age makeup? What were they thinking?
12. The Queen
It may not be too soon for a Princess Diana biopic now, but what about back in 2006? The Queen focused on the early demise of the “People’s Princess” from Elizabeth’s point of view, nine years after the actual events. It won Helen Mirren an Oscar and apparently, there was no bad blood between the actress and the real-life royal ― they had tea together in 2008. Naomi Watts will take on the role of Di next in Diana.
13. Open Water
A married couple was accidentally left behind by their diving group off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. No one even noticed they were missing for two days, and they were never found. This low-budget film (released five years later) imagines that they had some nasty run-ins with sharks and jellyfish before they succumbed to the sea.
Aileen Wuornos was executed in 2002 after being convicted of six murders; the movie was released in 2003, and Charlize Theron picked up her Oscar in 2004. These films tend to work best when the subject is no longer alive to see the result, but the name of Aileen’s lover in the movie, played by Christina Ricci, had to be changed because she’s still around.
One of Jennifer Lopez’s breakout roles is that of beloved Tejano singer Selena, who was shot by her fan club president over a financial dispute. The real-life murder happened in 2005, and the film was in theaters by 2007. In this case, the appeal of the film introduced Selena’s mostly Spanish-language music to a lot of new fans who hadn’t heard it before.
16. What’s Love Got To Do With It
This chronicle of Tina Turner’s abusive relationship with Ike Turner was made in 1993, while he was still alive, further tarnishing his reputation as a drug addict and wife beater. In fact, at this point, it’s just about the only thing he’s known for. Which reminds us ― is it too soon for a Chris Brown movie? (Yeah, probably.)
17. The Social Network
While hardly a biopic of Mark Zuckerberg ― it plays fast and loose with some of the facts ― David Fincher’s 2010 drama about the creation of Facebook portrays the young billionaire as an egomaniacal backstabber who, at the end of the day, just wants to be loved. Mark himself may not be a fan, but it easily became one of the most acclaimed films of recent years, earning praise for the performances of Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, and Jesse Eisenberg. A prime example of how fast the world changes these days ― when The Social Network was released, it felt like we’d been living with Facebook for decades, not a mere six years.
18. The Anna Nicole Smith Story
This direct-to-DVD title, starring D-list starlet Willa Ford, was released the same year Anna Nicole Smith died ― a mere seven months later. (You can probably guess at the quality.) That's the very definition of "tasteless."
19. Anything On Lifetime
The Pregnancy Pact. The Craigslist Killer. If it’s on Lifetime, it’s probably too soon, since this network churns out cheesy melodramas ripped from the headlines at an astonishing pace. (But maybe if they spent a little more time on them, the movies could actually be good.)
20. Whitney Houston/Amy Winehouse biopics
Virtually any legendary musician either already has a biopic (Ray, Walk The Line) or has a rumored one in the works (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin). Still, for those we’ve only recently lost, it’s almost certainly too soon to see them brought back to life through an actor or actress. Let them rest in peace for awhile, will you, Hollywood?
Which true story do you think came too soon?