Surprise: Matt Damon anti-war movie an atomic bomb at the box office

I admit that I haven’t seen it — and neither has anyone else, apparently — but the reviews from righty film critics were simply gruesome, with Kyle Smith moved by its smearmongering to call it “one of the most egregiously anti-American movies ever released by a major studio.”

If you go by per-screen average, it did as well as in its first week as “Our Family Wedding.” Come, share my amusement.

Green Zone, reteaming Damon with Paul Greengrass, his director in the last two, very popular Jason Bourne films, earned just $14.5 million in its first three days at North American theaters, according to early studio estimates. That’s way below industry predictions (in the low to middle $20 millions) and less than a quarter of the $62 million amassed this weekend by the defending champ, Alice in Wonderland…

Universal, the studio that produced Green Zone, had smelled something bad for more than a year. Greengrass and Damon shot their picture during the last few months of the Bush Administration. Then, writes Anne Thompson on her IndieWire blog, the studio’s co-chairmen, Marc Shmuger and David Linde, “pushed back the Green Zone postproduction and release to allow Greengrass to find the film — and an ending — in the editing room.” The movie’s budget was at least $130 million, plus another $100 million or so to bring to market, and is unlikely to return even half that sum to Universal. The Green Zone shadow, plus the failures of a bunch of other Universal movies (Land of the Lost, Bruno, Funny People, Duplicity, State of Play, etc.), cost Shmuger and Linde their jobs in October. Their legacy projects — this and the expensive disappointment The Wolfman — are still costing Universal.

“It’s a bit of a disappointment,” Nikki Rocco, the studio’s president of distribution, said of Green Zone. Actually, it’s a bit of a disaster. It’s a smidge of financial calamity. It’s a flop of Universal proportions.

Shmuger and Linde were both big Obama donors; I wonder how they’re coping these days with The One’s escalation in Afghanistan. As for “Green Zone,” the instinctive reaction whenever one of these anti-Iraq agitprop pieces sinks at the box office is to blame its politics, but “The Hurt Locker” was reportedly agnostic about the war and struggled to sell tickets too. Granted, it had no A-lister in the cast like Damon, but it had lots of critical acclaim. Maybe the public simply doesn’t want to see an Iraq movie yet. In fact, now that I think of it, what was the last war movie to do really big business at the B.O.? “Black Hawk Down” broke the $100 million mark domestically, but that was almost 10 years ago. It may be that the anxiety of fighting real wars has left the country momentarily without an appetite for war as spectacle. (Then again, “The Pacific” seems to be doing okay for HBO.) Exit question: When will we finally get a pro-war movie about Iraq so that we have a standard of comparison? Over/under is 2020.