In 2018, ten new libertarian films (six narrative films and four documentaries) were identified and are listed below. It’s noteworthy that many of these films were made on a shoestring budget and clawed their way up through sheer merit — the declining cost of film technology combined with online distribution has liberated filmmaking as never before. This year’s selection compares favorably with that of 2017, but is still eclipsed by 2016 (when a libertarian film was the biggest blockbuster of the year).
Criteria to be included in this list were: a) the film had to be described as a “2018” release according to Box Office Mojo, or be officially released in online streaming or DVD, 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).
None of these films were big box office hits, but several did rank in the top sales quartile. Death Wish, a remake of the Charles Bronson pro-Second Amendment classic took in a healthy $34M in global sales. Padman, an Indian film, scored $27M; Death of Stalin $24M; and Chappaquiddick $18M.
These films did even better in terms of ratings. Particularly noteworthy in that regard, Padman scored 85% critics approval/90% audience approval on Rotten Tomatoes. Death of Stalin scored 96%/77%, Chappaquiddick 82%/70%, and Little Pink House 74%/82%. Two films not sufficiently reviewed for Rotten Tomatoes to calculate a critics score nonetheless earned high scores with audiences: Tim Timmerman scored 89% approval, and How Jack Became Black scored 83%.
In the near-term pipeline are two additional films worth tracking. No Safe Spaces, a documentary about free speech, is set for release in 2019. A remake of The Fountainhead by Director Zac Snyder is also in the works, though a release date has not been announced.
2018: The Year the Hollywood Left Lost Its Grip
Something happened in 2018, or rather didn’t happen. In the past, the studios could crank out a high-budget propaganda film, have it debut at Cannes or Sundance to be hailed on the spot by the usual critics, discussed on TV by sympathetic talk show hosts, and widely distributed in theaters – and people would come and watch. Box office sales would then be presented to legitimize the film as “popular,” it would earn the usual awards, and in the end a narrative would be successfully planted in the public mind.
Michael Moore was the master of this process. In 2002, his documentary Bowling for Columbine earned an astonishing $22M, rather a lot for a documentary, only to be completely overshadowed by his next hit, Fahrenheit 9/11, which earned $119M. Two more hits followed: in 2007 Sicko, with sales of $25M, and in 2009 Capitalism, a Love Story, with sales of $14M. But nothing Moore has directed since has gained traction. In 2018, his Fahrenheit 11/9, which Moore predicted would be a blockbuster that would destroy Trump (it didn’t), earned just $6M despite being generously distributed in 1,719 theaters (many of which were only able to sell a pathetically few tickets per showing).
Michael Moore’s experience is emblematic, but there are other indications that the Left is losing its grip on film. The Academy Awards, famously politicized, are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Every year, fewer people watch them. No one even wants the hosting job anymore (though there is someone who should get it). The Emmys are in the same boat. A film directed at young people The Young Karl Marx, produced at a cost of over $10M and hailed by the Los Angeles Times and RogerEbert.com, couldn’t sell its way out of a paper bag – earning just $125K in US theaters. The just-opened On the Basis of Sex, a paean to Ruth Vader Ginsburg, has also come out of the gate with a weak box office opening.
It may be that people have more viewing choices, or it may be that Hollywood has let its progressive mask slip too much in its zeal to “get” Trump, or it may simply be that people are bored with being preached at, but for some reason the old studio magic just isn’t working. I mentioned in last year’s roundup that 2017 was a pivotal point in the culture war; 2018 has been a continuation of that trend.
It’s also notable that two long-overdue films were finally produced that no one would have touched a decade ago, Death of Stalin and Chappaquiddick. Despite having been responsible for more murders than Hitler, criticizing Stalin in film has been largely off-limits among filmmakers. For some reason that changed in 2018, though Russia wasn’t very happy about it. Likewise Senator Ted Kennedy, who left a young woman to drown following a car accident, has historically also gotten a free pass. That might have continued but for the courage and business-savvy of comedian Byron Allen, who bought Chappaquiddick for $20 million and became its producer. Allen told Variety “Very powerful people tried to put pressure on me not to release this movie. They went out of their way to try and influence me in a negative way.”
Libertarian Short Film Boom
Also in the plus column this year, it’s time to acknowledge the increasing volume and quality of libertarian short films. I use the term broadly – these are not necessarily traditional short films, but include skits and low-budget animated features, many of them produced by Reason, WeTheInternetTV, PragerU, The Institute for Justice, and independent filmmakers. I encourage readers to check out the bounty of what is now available; some of these are astoundingly creative, entertaining, and informative. A good place to start is the five short libertarian film collections on this site (1,2,3,4,5).
The 2018 Libertarian Film List
And without further adieu, six narrative films and four documentaries made the 2018 list, as given below.
2018 Libertarian Narrative Films
Senator Ted Kennedy leaves a 28-year-old woman to drown when his car skids off the road into a pond, but is protected by powerful Democratic Party operatives and a devoted left-wing press corps. [Dir: John Curran/ Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Ed Helms/ 106 min/ Drama, History, Thriller/ Corrupt Government, Propaganda/ 2018]
“Chappaquiddick catalogues the facts and eschews the sensationalism. The result is a film of integrity and disclosure, a controversial chapter in American history that substitutes clinical accuracy for Hollywood embellishment, with an impressive attention to detail and an admirable respect for suspenseful narrative.”
“The cynical smartness that has afflicted contemporary journalism and made much recent cinema insufferable is confronted by Curran’s conscientious dramatic rigor.”
Death of Stalin
When socialist dictator Joseph Stalin dies unexpectedly, a chaotic power struggle between surviving Soviet officials ensues. [Dir: Armando Iannucci/ Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko/ 106 min/ Comedy, Drama/ Anti-socialism/ 2018]
“This delightfully silly movie is an intelligent, hilarious circus crammed full of the finest people cinema has to offer…easily the comedy of the year.”
“Armando Iannucci’s lacerating, hilarious comedy lampoons Stalinist Russia to within an inch of its life.”
A surgeon seeks vengeance after the police fail to make progress solving the rape/murder of his wife and daughter. [Dir: Eli Roth/ Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue/ 107 min/ Action, Drama/ Second Amendment/ 2018]
“If the NRA made a feature film, it would be this.”
“This gut punch of a remake will drive SJWs crazy. That’s just one of many reasons to see Eli Roth’s latest.”
–Hollywood in Toto
Little Pink House
Susan Kelo, a small-town nurse, fights against the eminent domain seizure of her home — all the way to the Supreme Court. [Dir: Courtney Balaker/ Catherine Keener, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Aaron Douglas/ Drama/ Eminent Domain/ 2018]
“Brings urgency to a fascinating, underexplored theme.”
“Directed by first-timer Courtney Balaker, for whom the film should be a calling card to bigger things, Little Pink House benefits tremendously from Keener’s charisma, compassion and sense of humor.”
An heroic and independent entrepreneur creates a low-cost sanitary pad for the world’s poor, but must overcome cultural shame associated with menstruation to get his invention accepted. Based on the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham. [Dir: R. Balki/ Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte, Sonam Kapoor/ 140 min/ Biography, Comedy, Drama/ Creator-as-Hero, Individualism/ India/ 2018]
“Quite the entertaining, daresay absorbing, movie.”
–Los Angeles Times
“An empowering film that gives you the wings, despite the odds.”
–Times of India
Tim Timmerman, Hope of America
A corrupt student body president of a suburban Utah high school embarks on a cynical quest for a political career, but is redeemed through love. [Dir: Cameron Sawyer/ Andrew Caldwell, Stephanie Drapeau, Monica Moore Smith/ 94 min/ Comedy, Romance/ Power Corrupts/ 2018]
“The teen comedy Tim Timmerman: Hope of America is a smile-inducing throwback to John Hughes high-school movies of the 1980s — some effervescent fun centered on a self-centered slacker.”
–Salt Lake City Tribune
“There’s a frisky energy that allows many of the jokes to land and solid supporting performances.”
2018 Libertarian Documentaries
A documentary examination of the operations of several tech giants reveals the stunning degree to which they subtlly manipulate information and user experience, entirely undetected, to influence popular political opinion. [Dir: M.A. Taylor/ 80 min/ Documentary/ Propaganda/ 2018]
“The Creepy Line is a terrifying and important documentary.”
A father forced by the public school system to categorize his multiracial children by “primary race” explores the silliness of racial identity. [Dir: Eli Steele/ 96 min/ Documentary/ Equality & Law, Individualism/ 2018]
“How Jack Became Black is a fascinating (and disturbing) exploration of the contemporary subordination of the individual to careerist bureaucracies and anti-humanist orthodoxies.”
“Both intellectually stimulating and emotionally touching.”
–Anthem Film Festival
A documentary examination of how best to avoid war reveals that maintaining a strong defense, costly though it may be, is inescapably the price of peace. [Dir: Kip Perry, Elan Bentov/ Johan Norberg/ 60 min/ Documentary/ Anti-war/ 2018]
“This film is a timely warning that preventing another major war will require active measures, and that anyone wishing for peace must be prepared to pay its price. The only thing more expensive – in lives, treasure, and human liberty – would be failing to do so.”
Sweden: Lessons for America?
An informed look at the Sweden reveals it to be not the socialist paradise some would claim, but a strongly market-based economy with an efficient safety net. [Dir: James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty/ Johan Norberg/ 60 min/ Documentary/ Anti-socialism/ 2018]
“Swedish author Johan Norberg stars in a new documentary that debunks outdated myths about the Scandinavian nation, arguing that the country that gave us Ingmar Bergman and IKEA has a lot to teach the U.S.—but not for the reasons that most people think.”
2018 All-Time Audience Favorite Awards
Another indicator of which films libertarians think are worth watching…is what libertarians are watching. Ranked in terms of 2018 downloads from this site, the following were the top 5 most popular libertarian films — not just of 2018 but of all time, the top 5 most popular libertarian documentaries, and the top 5 short films (or short films collections):
Social Justice Mocked: 8 Short Films
John Locke: His Libertarian Philosophy In 5 Short Films
Antifa Mob Vs. Free Speech Hero
Trabant: “An Awful Car Made By Communists”
Oscar Bait: Academy-Award Winning Trailer
Opportunity for Libertarian Filmmakers
You would never have seen most of the films on this list 20 years ago. But three things have changed, and these have leveled the playing field, creating unprecedented opportunity for budding libertarian filmmakers.
First, libertarian creatives now have allies. The Moving Picture Institute and Taliesin Nexus are two organizations that promote libertarian films through training and funding, and they assisted some of the films in this year’s list. There is even a libertarian film festival, the Anthem Film Festival, held every year in Las Vegas. It is looking for new films right now.
Second, most of these films were produced on the thinnest of budgets. Inexpensive sophisticated software has put unprecedented creative power in the hands of new filmmakers. It just doesn’t cost that much to make a good film anymore (particularly shorts and documentaries).
And third, theater oligopolies no longer dominate film distribution. Last year, streaming film views substantially exceeded box office views for the first time. Most of the films in this list are primarily distributed online.
If you’ve ever thought about becoming a filmmaker, this is your moment.