In 2017 libertarian films were relatively few in number and none scored particularly well at the box office (unlike last year’s stellar performance, when a libertarian film was the biggest blockbuster of 2016); but some 2017 libertarian films did earn significant critical acclaim, and 2018 is already looking much better, with planned releases of several strong prospects early in the new year.
In total, thirteen new libertarian films (two narrative films and eleven documentaries) were identified, and are listed below. Criteria to be included in this list were: a) the film had to be described as a “2017” 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).
Already planned for release in 2018 are: The 15:17 to Paris, Chappaquiddick, Death of Stalin, Death Wish, How Jack Became Black, I am Gary Johnson, and No Safe Spaces. I am particularly excited about Death of Stalin, already released in the UK, where it has earned remarkably strong reviews, some calling it the best film of the year.
2017: A Pivotal Year in the Culture War
While 2017 may not have been an exceptional year for libertarian film, it was nonetheless a pivotal year in the broader culture war, for other reasons. The left’s unexpected electoral loss in 2016 rattled Hollywood execs to the core and spurred a determination to regain the initiative, so the industry went all out to lionize the Obama administration. Obama got his own gushingly flattering TV series just to nail down the liberal narrative in case anyone missed it. Former Attorney General Eric Holder — the only cabinet member in U.S. history to be held in contempt of Congress — got his own series too . So did Robert Reich, an Obama administration adviser, who hilariously named his show Saving Capitalism. But you get the feeling that this kind of political marketing schlock doesn’t matter quite as much anymore, for two reasons.
First and most importantly, Hollywood no longer has a lock on film content, because the film industry is rapidly being democratized by digital film production. Meanwhile theater chains no longer monopolize distribution, thanks to online streaming. Talented libertarian and conservative filmmakers — who in the past would have been sidelined by the progressive borg –now finance their own films and distribute them online or in DVD. It’s notable that a number of the 2017 libertarian films listed below were produced on shoe-string budgets and distributed mostly via Amazon streaming; these are just the kind of films that never would have seen daylight in the pre-digital world. There are hints that the new block chain technology will take this even further, and meanwhile the streaming service VidAngel, owned by libertarians, produced its first TV series.
Second, old Hollywood can no longer stake the slightest claim on moral superiority. That ship sailed with the Harvey Weinstein allegations, and more importantly the sudden realization on the part of the public that the top stars of Hollywood — famed, acclaimed, righteous A-listers — the very people who had won our trust, turned out to be abject frauds, consciously and cynically complicit in the repeated abuse of young women and young men. The aftermath of the initial revelations, with half of Hollywood suddenly naming names, has ripped the lid off of Tinsel Town to reveal the progressive snake pit underneath; in all, 68 actors and media professionals including top names have been accused to date. Somehow a “”star” telling us what we should think about a given issue just doesn’t have the same mojo anymore.
What Libertarians Watched in 2017
Another indicator of which films libertarians think are worth watching…is what libertarians are watching. Ranked in terms of 2017 downloads from this site, the following were the top 5 most popular libertarian films and the top 5 most popular libertarian documentaries:
Sons of Liberty
The Bleeding Edge
Free to Choose
Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism
Life on Bitcoin
Liberty! The American Revolution
Mao’s Great Famine
The 2017 Libertarian Film List
And without further adieu, two narrative films and eleven documentaries made the 2017 list, as given below.
2017 Libertarian Narrative Films
“A powerful story of love, honor, rebellion and survival as seen through the eyes of two young lovers caught in the ravages of Joseph Stalin’s genocidal policies against Ukraine in the 1930s.”
“ A rousing tale with political pertinence, given the current state of relations between Russia and the Ukraine..”
–Sydney Morning Herald
“Vividly shines a light on a criminally under-reported and often deliberately misunderstood case of systematic mass murder.”
An Armenian medical student is torn by love and duty, as he tries to survive the Armenian Holocaust. The Promise credits: [Dir: Terry George/ Angela Sarafyan, Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac/ 134 min/ Drama, History/ Democide]
“Hotel Rwanda director Terry George takes on a largely uncovered part of history in this often soapy but well-intentioned and extravagantly mounted epic.”
2017 Libertarian Documentaries
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
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.”
Architects of Denial
The mass murder of 2 million Armenians is remembered by the children of survivors — and denied by the government that committed it.
“A frank look at the horrors of the Armenian genocide as well as the modern-day persecution of Armenians by forces in Turkey and its ally, Azerbaijan.”
–Los Angeles Times
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City
A journalist discovers spontaneous order in city development — and takes on City Hall to fight its vision of a bulldozed, centrally-planned urban landscape. Citizen Jane: Battle for the City credits: [Dir: Matt Tyrnauer/ 92 min/ Documentary/ Eminent Domain, Libertarian Heroes]
“The movie invites you to sink into her challengingly supple and vibrant analysis of why cities, which we mostly take for granted, are in fact rather magical places. Even if you live in one and think you know it inside out, you come away from Citizen Jane understanding, more than you did going in, the special chemistry of what makes a city tick.”
First They Killed My Father
A young woman who grew up in Pol Pot’s Cambodia recalls what it was like to live in the Khmer Rouge’s “socialist paradise.”
“A rare film about a national tragedy told through the eyes and mind of a child, and as fine a war movie as has ever been made.”
Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
A Hong Kong teenager organizes protests and civil disobedience to resist mainland China’s increasing encroachment on the liberties of Hong Kong citizens. Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower credits: [Dir: Joe Piscatella/ Joshua ‘Chi-Fung’ Wong/ 79 min/ Documentary/ Libertarian Heroes, Resistance to Tyranny]
“In an earlier age, Joshua Wong might have been the perfect Frank Capra hero. An idealistic, unassuming student activist, he is driven by a staunch belief that the power of the Hong Kong people will be sufficient to win the day in the David and Goliath struggle with Chinese rule. Joe Piscatella’s absorbing documentary captures the triumphs and disappointments of the young dissident’s life…”
Life on Bitcoin
A young married couple test the practicality of digital currency in the existing paper money world, by trying to live on Bitcoin alone — for three months. Life on Bitcoin credits: [Dir: Travis Pitcher, Joseph Lebaron/ Austin M. Craig, Beccy Bingham/ 96 min/ Documentary/ Anti-Regulation/ 2017]
“Part newlywed road trip, part Bitcoin primer, Life on Bitcoin is a thoroughly enjoyable introduction both to cryptocurrency and to the community of people promoting it.”
The New Radical
An emerging culture of techie libertarian/anarchists use technology like cryptocurrency and device printers to challenge the rules.
“For such a cerebral documentary, The New Radical packs a wicked punch.”
–New York Times
Why doesn’t the education sector innovate like other economic sectors and industries? Cato’s Andrew Coulson investigates. School Inc. credits: [Dir: Andrew Coulson/ 180 min/ Documentary/ Government Schools]
“An insightful dive into the question of why educating children, in countries across the globe, has stubbornly resisted improvements in efficiency.”
The true story of Bassem Youssef, a cardiologist turned comedian, who publicly criticized and mocked Egypt’s corrupt government — at great personal risk. Tickling Giants credits: [Dir: Sara Taksler/ Bassem Youssef/ 111 min/ Documentary/ Freedom of Speech/ Egypt]
“There’s a lot to laugh at, and to learn from, in Tickling Giants, a documentary that starts off by telling the story of one man and ends up speaking volumes about satire, freedom of expression and political pressure.”
–New York Times
“Tickling Giants provides a comprehensive examination of Youssef’s career highs and lows while providing a vivid personal portrait of its subject whose cheerfulness and resolve began to wither in the face of constant threats to himself and his family.”
Trailblazers: The New Zealand Story
The story of New Zealand’s fall and rise, as the country — once bankrupted by decades of socialism — fought its way back to prosperity through radical free market reforms. Trailblazers: The New Zealand Story credits: [Dir: James Tusty & Maureen Castle Tusty/ Narrator: Johan Norberg/ 60 min/ Documentary/ Econ 101, Anti-Socialism, Pro-Capitalism]
“An upbeat, well-organized documentary that relates [the story of New Zealand’s economic miracle] in an easily comprehensible way through interviews with government officials, entrepreneurs, and ordinary New Zealanders — all against a backdrop of lovingly photographed New Zealand countryside.”
What Happened in Vegas
GRAND PRIZE WINNER: ANTHEM FILM FESTIVAL
Filmmaker Ramsey Denison investigates the Las Vegas police department for corruption — and finds plenty. What Happened in Vegas credits: [Dir: Ramsey Denison/ 90 min/ Documentary/ Themes/ 2017]
“Damning takedown of the city’s powers that be.”
“Denison’s experience cutting true crime programs pays off, delivering a polished production.”
–Los Angeles Timesc