Study Guide

The Hurt Locker Introduction

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The Hurt Locker Introduction

Release Year: 2009

Genre: Drama, Action, War

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Writer: Mark Boal

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

With a name like The Hurt Locker, you know you're headed for a rough ride—and sorry, folks, not in the Fifty Shades kind of way. This 2009 film is a pretty brutal tale of a team of Army soldiers tasked with disabling bombs. They're out in the hot desert, the pressure is high, the guys don't get along...

This can't be good for anyone's blood pressure.

Of course, watching the film is not as stressful as actually dismantling a bomb—or, you know, participating in a war—but it's pretty hair-raising compared to your average trip to the movies.

This baby is well worth all the effort and anxiety, though—or, at least, the folks at the Oscars seemed to think so. The Hurt Locker racked up an impressive gaggle of gold statuettes:

  • Best director
  • Best picture
  • Best original screenplay
  • Best film editing
  • Best sound mixing
  • Best sound editing

Come on, tell us you're not curious now.

Kathryn Bigelow's win was an especially big deal, given that it was the first time ever that a woman had won for best director. Yeah, at the 2010 ceremony. We know—we can't believe that, either. This was also pretty much the film that made Jeremy Renner a star, and he got a nom for best actor as well.

Now for the bad news: the movie was not as successful at the box office as you might expect, given all the critical and awards show kudos. The film's domestic gross was $14.7 million immediately after the Oscars, making it the lowest-grossing best picture winner ever, which is maybe not surprising since this is a film that's meant to make the audience a little uncomfortable. (Pausing here for an irony alert: that year, The Hurt Locker beat out Avatar, which was the highest-grossing film of all time...and directed by Bigelow's ex-husband. Can you say "awkward"?)

Those box-office numbers seem especially unfortunate given that the estimated budget for the film was $15 million. Sure, they got a post-Oscar bump, but that's cutting the profits pretty tight, if you ask us.

Just goes to show you, though, that profits are definitely not the only measure of a movie's quality.

So dig in, put your bomb gear on, and pray you make it out intact because this baby's gonna take you on a trip.


What is The Hurt Locker About and Why Should I Care?

The Hurt Locker is part of a loooong tradition of movies that dig into the wartime experience, but we'd say this one is pretty unique. Are you used to war films or books that kind of try to balance the darkness of wartime with warm and fuzzy themes like brotherhood or bravery? That play up that whole triumph-of-the-human-spirit angle?

Well, this ain't that type of movie.

Will James, our lead character, is fearless, but that doesn't mean that he comes off as brave, necessarily—it's more like he's unhinged. Will takes lots of unnecessary risks, which would be bad enough just in terms of his own well-being, but he's often dragging his men along with him. His team already takes tons of risks just by virtue of, you know, being explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) guys, so they really don't appreciate Will piling any more on.

In fact, Sanborn, one of Will's team members, is so upset about the whole sitch that he fantasizes about "accidentally" blowing the dude up. Wait, aren't war movies supposed to play up the bonds that men form while serving together? Not this one. There's no Band of Brothers action going on in this story.

So, The Hurt Locker is quite the little rebel in terms of the war movie genre. It's kind of an unwritten rule that mainstream war movies have to come up with some kind of bright spot to hold on to—you know, some kind of reminder of why and how people manage to get through war. This film, however, kind of doesn't bother—and that's a really gutsy thing for a typical Hollywood movie to do.

Maybe that's the reason behind the film's limited box-office appeal? We're not sure. But the film's anti-rah-rah approach really does bring up all kinds of interesting questions:

  • Was the movie less commercially successful because it wasn't uplifting?
  • Was there something in particular about this conflict that made making a typical war movie hard? If so, what was that thing?
  • Did you find the movie less interesting or enjoyable as a result of this more negative tone?

We think a movie that raises all of those questions is worth a look, don't you? But if that's not enough for you, well, then, there's Jeremy Renner's performance. 'Nuff said. And it's not like you're going to skip out on a best-picture winner, right? We didn't think so.


Sergeant Jeffrey Sarver sued the producers of the film because he was convinced Will was based on him. The suit was dismissed. (Source)

We've mentioned this already, but The Hurt Locker is the lowest-grossing movie ever to win best picture. Guess money doesn't always determine worth. Who'da thunk? (Source)

The ratio of footage shot to footage used in the film (by hour) was 100:1. Which is a lot. Like, a lot a lot. (Source)

The Hurt Locker Resources

Articles and Interviews

Where It All Began
Mark Boal's journey toward being a screenwriter might surprise you. Luckily, Rotten Tomatoes got the scoop.

Actually, This Is Where It All Began: Playboy
Yes, really, some people do read it for the articles—including Bigelow, apparently. Check out Mark Boal's original article that served as the basis of the film.

A Different Perspective
If you ever wanted to list everything that's wrong with the movie, don't worry, someone else has already done that for you.

Naysayers and Truth-Tellers
Get more perspectives on what Bigelow, Boal, and friends got right and wrong.


Coming Attractions
Check out an original trailer for the film.

Thompson's Final Moments
This is the scene at the beginning of the film that shows you the worst-case scenario for an EOD outing.


Music, Not Bombs
The movie's score is just as haunting as the movie itself, which is saying something.


When You Think You're Looking for One Bomb…and Find Six
It makes for a complicated afternoon.

Fear and Loathing in the Cereal Aisle
Will looks more freaked out here than he did dismantling bombs, no?

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