Gerard Butler is The Cinema Icon For Which Trump’s America Yearns

By  · Published on December 30th, 2016


The man’s saved so many bad presidents they should call him the Electoral College.

Like many of us and, seemingly, the majority of celebrities, Gerard Butler didn’t have a great 2016. Butler starred in three movies, two of which he produced: The Headhunter’s Calling and London Has Fallen. The Headhunter’s Calling, a drama where an office bro learns that family is more important than the job, is at an ominous 0% on Rotten Tomatoes (including our TIFF review) while London Has Fallen, an action movie where a White Office bro learns that shooting foreigners is more important that anything, sits at 26%.

The third movie he appeared in was Gods of Egypt, which at 16% on Rotten Tomatoes sets the bar for what a pocketful of dreams and terrible filmmaking can get you.

The only one of these projects to make any money was the xenophobic London Has Fallen, where brown people have infiltrated the police force and emergency services which obviously means that a terrorist strike can’t be far behind. Butler plays a Donald Trump voter’s wet dream – an ass-kicking renegade whose job is to stab Arabs and toughen up the Presidency while throwing out lines like “Go back to Fuckheadistan” that we all know reside in the President-elect’s Twitter drafts.

Aside from its politics, the film is amateurishly made and completely without tension, thrills, or entertainment value. Only the darkest irony can be leveraged against it and a character that quips “I was waiting for you to come out of the closet,’’ when the still incredibly macho POTUS (Aaron Eckhart and his all-american chin) exits a closet to unleash some hell.

The film was a relative success stateside but a huge hit in foreign markets, making more than twice its budget overseas. As jaded as I am, I’m sure some people saw it ironically because we’re living in what The New York Times calls “The Age of Schadenfreude.” The word’s popularity surged since the late 90s, being applied to celebrity failures, corporate stumbles, and so-bad-they’re-good movies. We’ve become absorbed by the spectacularly bad because we can often see the charming misapplication of passion or, less charmingly, we can learn something from it while feeling smugly superior ourselves.

Now, self-satisfied hate-watching culture rewards its subjects with SNL presidential coverage and box office success.

The transition from schadenfreude to acquiescence to unironic enjoyment culminates in London Has Fallen’s succinct and heartbreaking Cinemascore (a grade derived from audience polls) of A-. People know what they want and they want Butler’s (and Trump’s) brand of post-parody, unapologetically brash tactlessness.

Butler, either taking note or following his bliss, increasingly seeks these types of roles in both his big-budget actioners and indie dream projects. On his The Headhunter’s Calling character, Butler told Deadline, “It’s rare to get the chance to play a character who does push the envelope so far, in terms of being ballsy, aggressive, lacking compassion.”

Is it rare, Gerard?

Maybe his Gods of Egypt character, the villainous Set who rips the eyes from his brother and the wings off his wife, is a bit too empathetic for Butler’s tastes. His characters aren’t just manly beef-eating, whiskey-drinking men – they’re the tough cartoons that Trump boasts to be. They bleed actual gold, erect monuments to themselves, and build murderous metaphorical walls with just a pistol and the testosterone-filled sweat on their brows.

2017 gives Butler the opportunity to continue down this lucrative path or branch out to more diverse projects. Two of his upcoming roles seem to indicate his decision. His new producerial venture/star vehicle Hunter Killer boasts the following summary on IMDb: “An untested American submarine captain teams with U.S. Navy Seals to rescue the Russian president, who has been kidnapped by a rogue general.” Beyond Butler’s new typecasting as a full-time nanny for the world’s leaders, the sub-text (ha) is hard to miss.

Russia–United States relations have already deteriorated (or blossomed depending on how you feel about American democracy) since their hacking of the Presidential election, so of course Butler would be in a movie saving their president. He may as well be wearing a wristband emblazoned with WWDTTHWD (What Would Donald Trump Tweet He Would Do?).

The other action film on his 2017 docket is a film that sounds like a rejected X-Man, but somehow much worse, Geostorm. Geostorm is about two brothers that find out that a climate change stabilization satellite program is behind a plot to assassinate the president. Of course this sounds absolutely crazy, but the climate change denier undercurrent makes the absurdity another upsetting message layered in Butler’s president-obsessed filmography.

If historical evidence is to be believed, it’s likely that only one of these movies will connect with audiences in a profitable way. That movie is almost definitely not Geostorm. However, in a climate where “turn off your brain” movies have become some of our most highly politicized, Gerard Butler’s continued commodified escalation of macho action politics shouldn’t be ignored. At this point, I’d rather he do another rom-com.

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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).