Godzilla is most notorious for destruction, chaos and highly popular movies. But the monster lizard has also always been a (towering) political figure, originally conceived as a sly critique of nuclear testing. He's not the only one; several box office blockbusters have — proven or otherwise — socio-political messages below the surface. Here, we've compiled a list of 14 summer blockbusters that many have argued contain subversive political messages. All opening weekend gross numbers came from Box Office Mojo.
According to US News, the original Godzilla, produced in Japan only a few years after the atomic bombs hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was created to express Japan's scars and anxieties relating to the attacks.
This most recent remake has been adapted to represent more modern threats, including using photos of destruction from events like the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina for inspiration, according to US New. Additionally, the film drew on the events and potential nuclear threat of Fukushima.
"If the film draws a line, it’s the use of nuclear power for weaponry," wrote US News writer Tierney Sneed.
“The question we tried to raise the most in the movie is: We try to control nature, we try to abuse it for our own benefit. Often it’s impossible that we could fully control it and something always goes wrong and actually it’s nature that controls us,” said director Gareth Edwards, as quoted by US News.
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $93,188,384
According to the BBC, Darren Aronofsky, director of Noah, has been straightforward with his intentions to portray Noah as “the first environmentalist.”
The film portrayal of Noah is concerned with modern-day issues such as overpopulation and preserving the environment, according to Brietbart.
California filmmaker Brian Godawa reacted strongly to the films message. Described by the BBC as someone who "cares for the environment but speaks for many in the religious community," Godwa criticized the film, saying that "'Christians don’t want their sacred story to be turned into a parable for environmentalism!'”
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $43,720,472
The X-Men series, which features a superpowered and persecuted minority group, has been argued by some to be a depiction of the gay rights movement.
"In its own way, X-Men has become the most subversive modern comic-book franchise, translating for a country of summer moviegoers the entire theater of gay politics," according to Paul Schrodt of The Atlantic.
The film's openly gay director Brian Singer said as much while recruiting Ian McKellan for a lead role in the franchise. "It's not just a fantasy story," Singer told LGBT rights activist McKellen. "It's a parable."
Total grossed over its opening weekend (first film only): $157,299,717
"In real-world terms, Winter Soldier basically says that the NSA was invented by Nazis," wrote Entertainment Weekly writer Darren Franich. "And that we let it happen, insisted even, giving up our freedom because we were too afraid to do anything else."
"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" focuses on government surveillance and unjust government control, while pitching the United States' military-industrial complex as a villain, says Franich.
The movie may be an over-the-top superhero blockbuster, "But it never loses sight of what it’s talking about," wrote Franich. "The security state, and how appealing it is, and how terrible it can become."
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $95,023,721
The dystopian story of teenagers forced to fight to the death in front of a national audience is making a statement about economics, according to Free Enterprise.
"Panem [the fictional country where the Hunger Games takes place] is hyperbole, but it clearly shows the consequences of a society devoid of free enterprise," said Free Enterprise writer Katie Denis.
Denis says the fictional people of Panem are suffering from three key economic drawbacks, namely a lack of economic progression, no free trade, and no market competition.
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $152,535,747
The two most recent star trek movies are representative of American foreign policy, according to prominent blogger Alexander Offord.
Both films feature a terrorist as the primary antagonist, which is in keeping with current events. In one scene, the protagonists must decide whether to kill this terrorist on sight or make him stand trial. "Some pretty obvious parallels can be drawn between the above mentioned ethical dilemma and a few of the more seedy operations US foreign policy has inflicted on the world lately," said Offord.
"Of course Khan [the primary antagonist] should have a trial...[but] Kirk’s storyline for much of the movie involves him in overcoming an intuitive, emotional desire for revenge in order to achieve a more rational and civilized and also deeper and more meaningful justice," Offord wrote.
Offord believes that parallels can be drawn between Kirk's moral dilemma and various situations that the U.S. has faced in recent years, including drone attacks and invasion of sovereign nations.
Total grossed over its opening weekend (first film only): $75,204,289
The Wolverine was directed with feminist intentions, according to director James Mangold in an interview with Vulture.
The Wolverine, which tells part of the origin story of one of the X-Men's most well-known characters, features a cast of women who “all have missions. They all have jobs to do other then be the object of affection,” said Mangold.
Mangold claims that he made a deliberate effort to include a wide range of women in order to better reflect the real world.
"It’s a very strong tableau of women — women with dark agendas, women with self-destructive agendas, women with protective agendas, dead women, alive women — who each are playing a different role,” he continued. “I think that the role of a woman in action pictures as an object of jeopardy is a little worn out. If anything, it’s Logan [Wolverine] in the movie that is a little more in jeopardy than anyone else.”
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $53,113,752
"I’m not trying to make people feel guilty," Avatar director James Cameron told Slashfilm. "I just want them to internalize a sense of respect and a sense of taking responsibility for the stewardship of the earth.. and I think this film can do that by creating an emotional reaction."
Avatar, the story of the Earth's quest to mine natural resources from another planet, is widely considered to be a highly environmental movie.
"It's stuff you already know, it's not hard to teach, and it's not here to preach," said Cameron. "But it does give you an emotional context for the information you already have, and maybe that emotional response breaks through a little bit of the denial responses we've built up — "ohh, I can't make a difference ... It's not my problem. It doesn't affect me. What's a few degrees of temperature rise, etc."
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $77,025,481
It may seem obvious that a movie about the White House being attacked has a political agenda, but it's not as straightforward as it seems, according to Mark Lee of Over Thinking It.
"The message of [the movie] seems to be twofold," wrote Lee. "Individuals closest to the on-the-ground reality should be empowered to make key decisions, and institutions should mostly just get out of the way of those individuals."
The message of individualism is especially significant now, Lee continues.
"[The movie signifies a] broader distrust in institutions that pervades American political discourse. It is a distrust that’s shared across the political spectrum," said Lee. "The hapless bureaucrats huddled in the command center can stand in for anyone’s least favorite out-of-touch institutional boogeyman, while the heroic individual can stand in for anyone’s favorite iconoclastic hero."
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $24,852,258
For Salon writer Michael Lind, episodes six through eight of the Star Wars franchise represent cultural regression and a distrust of science and technology.
"If there was a moment when the culture of enlightened modernity in the United States gave way to the sickly culture of romantic primitivism, it was when the movie “Star Wars” premiered in 1977," wrote Lind. "When I first watched 'Star Wars,' I was deeply shocked. The representatives of the advanced, scientific, galaxy-spanning organization were now the bad guys, and the heroes were positively medieval — hereditary princes and princesses, wizards and ape-men. Aristocracy and tribalism were superior to bureaucracy. Technology was bad. Magic was good."
Total grossed over its opening weekend: N/A
"Even the most obtuse Ghostbusters fanboy has to concede one thing. The real villain in Ghostbusters isn’t Gozer the Gozerian. It’s a bureaucrat from the Environmental Protection Agency," wrote Mat Phillips of Quartz. "Seriously, it’s the government —specifically the federal government —personified in the odious William Peck of the EPA, that unleashes hell on New York."
The character Peck, who Phillips describes as "dangerously ignorant of what it takes to run a small business," represents a meddling big government who ruins things for the everyday man.
The movie was released in 1984, a time when the Republican President Ronald Reagan's policies such as tax cuts, increased military spending and anti-big government rhetoric were very much in the public eye, said Phillips. "And Ghostbusters is stuffed with Reaganomics."
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $13,578,151
"It does not take a lot of imagination to see the new Batman movie that is setting box office records, 'The Dark Knight,' as something of a commentary on the war on terror," wrote The New York Times' editorial board.
The Joker, the primary villain of the movie, is an otherwise no-name civilian who strives to control a society through fear and the liberal use of explosives. He matches the description of a terrorist, and Batman's approach to dealing with him is akin to how the U.S. government has been fighting the war on terror, according to The Times.
"[Batman is] a darker response to the terrorist threat. He sets up a form of domestic surveillance, using people’s cell phones. He uses torture to uncover the details of an ongoing plot," says The Times. "He is someone who fights evil while, in many ways, bearing an uncanny resemblance to it."
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $158,411,483
Christopher Campbell of IndieWire thinks that "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" "might just be the greatest political allegory of our time."
The movie, he says, reflects the Cold War era paranoia of having traitors in your midst.
"The major theme of 'Dark of the Moon' is the idea that there is only good and bad, no room for compromise," said Campbell, listing another Cold War mentality. "Now my childhood hero (Optimus Prime) seems a lot less perfect to me. It's kind of like what happened to the office of the Presidency, and to the theoretical utopia of Communism, as I grew older, too."
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $97,852,865
"Though released in 1996, the film reads like some eerie Bush-era fantasy land: an unwarranted first strike by a faceless, sexless, mindless, clearly defined enemy, and a globally approved counter-strike led by none other than our own president flying an F-16," wrote Daniel Snyder of The Atlantic. "The idea that all conflicts can be solved through military action seems hopelessly outdated, even in the context of an interplanetary war."
Independence Day represents America's most simplistic problem-solving abilities, said Snyder, and shows how our foreign policy and public attitudes have changed since 1996.
"Watching Independence Day today is like peering back through time to an era where we could overcome any obstacle simply by hurling a bunch of fighter jets at it and drop a few bombs," he said. "Of course, there was never a time when things were that simple, but there certainly was a time when we thought they could be."
Total grossed over its opening weekend: $50,228,264