For more than 100 years, the U.S. Department of Defense has collaborated with Hollywood in creative film production, coordinating assets for movie studios and providing story input for all matters military. The long-standing relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon has given the U.S. military significant influence over some of the biggest blockbusters in film history.
To determine the most popular American movies supported by the Department of Defense, 24/7 Tempo reviewed Freedom of Information Act requests, academic case studies, and other sources documenting Pentagon support for various American films, as well as box office data from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. Movies that have received official DoD support via production assistance or script input were ranked based on worldwide ticket sales (inflation-adjusted).
Many of the biggest blockbuster films in Hollywood history have military themes and require military equipment like helicopters, fighter jets, tanks, and aircraft carriers for major action sequences and set pieces. In exchange for funding, access to equipment or shooting locations, and technical expertise from the military, movie studios often grant DoD liaisons editorial control over certain elements of a film’s script. (These are considered to be the most accurate war movies ever made.)
While the DoD Entertainment Media Office’s official goal is to ensure accurate depiction of military stories and safeguard sensitive information, critics of the military-entertainment complex maintain that the Pentagon uses blockbuster movies as propaganda to bolster the U.S. military’s recruitment strategy, public relations efforts, and influence overseas.
Click here to see the most popular movies you may not know were backed by the Pentagon
One of the most successful collaborations between Hollywood and the Pentagon is the film series “Top Gun.” In exchange for the use of a naval air station, four aircraft carriers, and about two dozen fighter jets flown by actual military pilots, the producers of “Top Gun” allowed the DoD to make several changes to the script, including the removal of a midair collision scene and changing the protagonist’s love interest from a service member, as relationships between officers and enlisted personnel are forbidden. Adjusted for inflation, “Top Gun” and “Top Gun: Maverick” have together grossed over $2 billion worldwide.
Nearly a century before “Top Gun: Maverick,” the DoD assisted in the support of 1927’s “Wings,” an action drama about combat pilots in WWI that became the first movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Click here to see every Best Picture winner since 1927.
To determine the most popular American movies supported by the Department of Defense, 24/7 Tempo reviewed Freedom of Information requests, academic case studies, and other sources documenting DoD support for various American films, as well as box office data from The Numbers. Movies that have received official DoD support via production assistance or script input were ranked based on worldwide ticket sales (inflation-adjusted). Box office data was adjusted for inflation using historical ticket prices from the National Association of Theatre Owners. Documentation of DoD support for most movies on the list comes from a 2013 FOIA request by Dr. Stephen Underhill and the 2021 study “Superheroes, Movies, and the State: How the U.S. Government Shapes Cinematic Universes” by Tricia Jenkins and Tom Secker. Data on IMDb user rating and Rotten Tomatoes audience score are current as of February 2023.
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