In 2016 libertarian hopes may not have been fully satisfied at the ballot box, but they did pretty well on the big screen. It was an excellent year for libertarian films and documentaries, in terms of both volume and quality.
In total, 16 new libertarian films (10 narrative films and 6 documentaries) were identified, and are listed below. Criteria to be included in this list were: a) the film had to be described as a “2016” release according to IMDB.com; b) content needed to be of significant interest to libertarians, as described here; and c) film quality needed to be sufficiently professional (a good article on this).
More broadly, the general tilt of this year’s political films may not only have predicted this election’s outcome but helped to decide it. Seven election-related films worthy of note are also discussed below.
A Decidedly Libertarian Film Was #1 at the Box Office
The highest-grossing libertarian film of 2016 just happens to also have been the highest-grossing film period. Captain America: Civil War, scored $1.2 billion in global sales, a cool billion dollars more than cost (take note Hollywood). As Salon so eloquently put it: “Captain America’s a douchey libertarian now: Why did Marvel have to ruin Steve Rogers? Steve Rogers is an icon of liberal patriotism, and his newest movie turns him into an Ayn Rand acolyte.”
Another big success on this list is Sully, which brought in $233 million (a four-fold return over its $60 million in cost). The film has been a hit with Objectivists. Says the New Romanticist: “Depicting one man’s competence and confidence with psychological depth, director Clint Eastwood made another little character masterpiece with Sully, starring Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley Sullenberger…Mr. Eastwood puts a 21st century hero in a clarifying and rational context.”
A film that should have been in the same league is the acclaimed Shin Godzilla, a sci-fi movie praised by both critics and audiences. It has done well enough — so far $78 million in global sales, but only $2 million of that was from the US. Why? Because US demand for it was grossly underestimated and the film was only shown briefly in selected US theaters. My suggestion: bring it back for a second run, and this time — how about significantly advertising the release?
Coming in at $69 million in global sales (a 38% return on its $50 million cost) is the outstanding 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. This film was blasted by critics (even before it debuted in theaters!) for the simple reason that it torpedoed the Hillary campaign’s “competence” narrative and started a whole (terribly awkward) national conversation about what really happened in Benghazi. Nonetheless, those who actually saw the film loved it.
Surprisingly, Snowden has so far brought in only $31 million, less than its $40 million cost. Free State of Jones is another libertarian film that did not sell well, with $25 million in sales, less than its $50 million cost.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a New Zealand film, grossed about $23 million globally, probably well more than cost (it’s a very entertaining film, but not one that looks high-budget).
Political Films and the Election
An earlier (pre-election) post on this site noted the success of some anti-Hillary documentaries, both in terms of popularity and caliber of production quality. Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party was the highest-grossing documentary of 2016, with sales of $13 million. Another documentary — perhaps even more impactful as it was viewed at least 3.5 million times online — was Clinton Cash. This film, based on the Peter Schweizer book of the same name, examined the Clinton Foundation money machine…and revealed a cabal of suspicious donors, deception, and quite possibly treason. About the film, the NY Post said: “It becomes all too clear how the former first couple went from rags to filthy rich — with the emphasis on filthy.”
The anti-Trump side — despite having every advantage in budget and critical support — was simply outmatched. One of the year’s biggest flops was Michael Moore’s much-anticipated Michael Moore in Trumpland, his “October Surprise” timed for release just before the election. Hilariously, it turned out to be just a 73-minute pro-Hillary speech/comedy act by Michael Moore himself, which he said he would self-distribute to chumps on iTunes.
Another film that affected an important election is Brexit: The Movie. It was produced on a budget of just £300,000. Nonetheless, through sheer merit, it was viewed in a brief span of months an incredible 2 million times — more than the razor-thin vote spread between Remain and Leave. Was it the deciding factor that tipped the scales? Impossible to say, but it clearly helped. About the film, Newsweek said: “The movie is a libertarian’s wet dream of Randian proportions.”
What Libertarians Watched in 2016
Another indicator of which films libertarians think are worth watching…is what libertarians are watching. Ranked in terms of 2016 downloads from this site, the following were the top 5 most popular libertarian films and the top 5 most popular libertarian documentaries:
The 2016 Libertarian Film List
And without further adieu, ten narrative films and six documentaries made the 2016 list, as given below. The additional “runners up” are films of some possible interest, but which either did not have as concentrated a libertarian message as those selected or did not meet production quality standards.
2016 Libertarian Narrative Films
“This is a case where the facts not only speak for themselves but hang in the air while bullets fly around and people die, and it gives this non-political film decidedly political consequence.”
When a young tech wiz discovers that the heart transplant he got in China was taken from a prisoner in a forced organ “donation,” he risks his life to save the next victims of China’s organ harvesting program.
“The Bleeding Edge is a deeply emotional and powerful film that borders somewhere between a thriller and a piece of investigative journalism.”
Political pressure mounts for the Avengers to submit themselves to UN control, but Captain America refuses, leading to a violent split among the superheroes.
“Captain America’s a douchey libertarian now: Why did Marvel have to ruin Steve Rogers? Steve Rogers is an icon of liberal patriotism, and his newest movie turns him into an Ayn Rand acolyte.”
“Libertarian ode to the free state that exists within all of us.”
A run-away orphan is pursued in a nationwide manhunt by Child Services.
“[It’s] is a delightfully bone-dry comedy from Taika Waititi and Sam Neill, celebrating Kiwi libertarianism.”
—Den of Geek
A married interracial couple’s determination to reside in their home state of Virginia, in violation of Virginia laws against interracial marriage, leads to the legal overturning of all such laws in sixteen states. Based on a true story.
“What [director] Nichols does — and does so exquisitely — is to show not only the deep love between two ordinary people but also…the damage an intrusive and bigoted authority can do.”
An Armenian medical student is torn by love and duty, as he tries to survive the Armenian Holocaust.
“Takes on a largely uncovered part of history in this often soapy but well-intentioned and extravagantly mounted epic.”
When a giant sea monster attacks Japan, incompetent officials and a sclerotic bureaucracy hamper the efforts of heroes trying to save the country.
“What we have here may be the first truly libertarian kaiju movie, one in which excess government and deference to international treaties is the problem, tying the population’s hands while a big ol’ party animal does whatever the hell it wants…”
A National Security Agency (NSA) employee discovers the agency is routinely spying on American citizens, in violation of the US Constitution, and risks all to tell the American public. Based on a true story.
“The most important and galvanizing political drama by an American filmmaker in years.”
When a plane suddenly loses power after takeoff, the pilot follows his own judgment instead of established procedure and saves the lives of all on board — but he is besieged by skeptical investigators, and his own self-doubt. Based on a true story.
“Depicting one man’s competence and confidence with psychological depth, director Clint Eastwood made another little character masterpiece with Sully, starring Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley Sullenberger…Mr. Eastwood puts a 21st century hero in a clarifying and rational context.”
“On the surface, The 5th Wave is mindlessly silly enough, but has a weirdly virulent pro-gun, libertarian streak just under the surface.”
–The Daily Gazette
“Ove has a sweet courtship of his wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) and develops a hatred for government bureaucrats (who he disparagingly calls “whiteshirts”) who meddle in the lives of ordinary folks. There’s a strong libertarian streak running through Ove.”
–The Cap Times
“The political thriller depicts an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack in which the nation’s power grid is brought down. In the aftermath, the government declares martial law and citizens’ rights are stripped away.”
“As for the big takeaway, because it is Disney, it has to be hopeful, right? And it is. Everyone learns the truth about government, about the need to not let anything or anyone stand in the way of your dreams, and the capacity of all people to be peaceful and cooperative.”
–Foundation for Economic Education
2016 Libertarian Documentaries
Abacus Federal Savings Bank, a family-owned community bank, suffers the full wrath of regulatory authorities as it (curiously) becomes the only financial institution to face criminal charges related to the subprime mortgage crisis.
“The central figure in James’ Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Thomas Sung, decided he wanted to be a banker when he saw It’s a Wonderful Life…[Director Steve James] brilliantly uses the film as a thematic through line for his story of a George Bailey who stands up to a corrupt, flawed system.”
A documentary examination of how the US became the world’s policeman questions the cost and usefulness of taking up that role.
–Veterans News Now
An examination of the increasingly casual and routine use by ordinary police of military tactics and high-powered weaponry, and how such militarization is changing the citizen-state relationship.
“When it was over, I had to force myself to exhale. What makes this movie so powerful is its terrifying portrayal of the mundanities of modern policing.”
Overincarceration of US citizens, and the flawed policies underlying this appalling human tragedy, are examined.
Easily consumable and passionately presented, it is an intelligent argument for reform.”
The true story of two filmmakers kidnapped by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, to be forced to make a films flattering to the regime, and who plotted not just films…but their escape.
“A head-shakingly bizarre story that alone makes it worth seeing.”
–New York Times
A documentary examination of Adam Smith’s life, revolutionary ideas about economics and morality, and how his insights on those two topics are related.
“Gives those unfamiliar with Smith’s thought a good introduction to his life and work in both the Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations…What comes across so clearly is just how revolutionary the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment were at the time and how foundation these ideas are to contemporary liberalism and economics.”
–Library of Economics and Liberty
“He emerges as a radical, sceptical libertarian who derided what he saw as the occasional fascism of the left.”
“The movie is a libertarian’s wet dream of Randian proportions.”
“It becomes all too clear how the former first couple went from rags to filthy rich — with the emphasis on filthy.”
–New York Post
“This film may have had the biggest impact of all [on the 2016 election], even though it never made it to the theater. Free online, it was viewed at least 3.5 million times before the election.”
“At its heart, ‘Clinton, Inc.’ is a psychological study of the Clintons and what makes them tick.”
“This documentary was blasted by critics, but they couldn’t stop its meteoric rise–it ended up being the #1 highest-grossing documentary of 2016.”
“The movie is geared toward casual political observers, ones who wonder how Illinois has become the fiscal train wreck it is today. And the film answers that question with two words: Mike Madigan.”
“Rigged 2016 analyzes why politics and elections never seem to engage the concerns and views of voters and citizens who refuse to identify as either Republican or Democrat. It also gets at why the two major parties are losing members like nobody’s business.”
“Filmmakers James Greenwood and Alec Asten have been following Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson around for weeks as the former two-term governor of New Mexico battles to increase his visibility and vote total over his results in 2012.”