Coming this weekend to a multiplex near you: Time-traveling hit men, computer-animated monsters vacationing in Transylvania and "a 16th-century killing machine who finds his spirituality after an encounter with the Devil's own Reaper."
But the one film that's actually drawing protests the one that even has picketers showing up in Los Angeles and New York is about a scrappy single mom with a learning-disabled child who teams with a disaffected teacher to battle an entrenched bureaucracy and turn around a failing Pittsburgh public school.
It's called "Won't Back Down." It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as the mom and Viola Davis as the teacher. And it has teachers union leaders and the education establishment losing their minds.
Why the hullabaloo? Because the remedy Davis' and Gyllenhaal's characters pursue bears an eerie resemblance to a "parent trigger," a relatively new and still largely untested school reform that has met with fierce resistance from unions and certain school districts.
California enacted the first parent-trigger law in 2010 as part of a package of bills aimed at improving the state's chances of winning a few hundred million in federal Race to the Top dollars. The state didn't get the money, but parents still have the reform.
Under the law, if half the parents at a failing school sign a petition, they can force a local district to enact one of several reforms that might include replacing the school staff, extending the school day and revising the curriculum, closing the school or converting the school into an independent charter.
Despite union opposition, the public tends to favor parent empowerment. The 2012 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll of American attitudes on education found that 70 percent of likely voters surveyed said they favor parent-trigger laws. Three other states have adopted legislation similar to California's. Pennsylvania, where the film is set, isn't one of them.
About two dozen other states are contemplating a parent-trigger law in some form. Imagine how a major Hollywood motion picture with likable protagonists that portrays parent empowerment as an effective means of change could move public opinion further in the parent trigger's favor. No wonder the unions and their allies are out in force denouncing it.
In fact, they've been denouncing the movie for months. A group called Parents Across America, which is a project of Class Size Matters, a union-affiliated activist organization in New York, published a crude fact check of "Won't Back Down" sight-unseen, 3 1/2 months before the film was due to arrive in theaters.
The PAA report noted, correctly, that the parent-trigger law has not been successful in California. Parents at two California schools have submitted parent-trigger petitions. The first group, at McKinley Elementary School in Compton, was blocked in court on a technicality. Their petitions were missing a date box.
A tenacious group of parents at Desert Trails Elementary in the Southern California desert town of Adelanto is still fighting its recalcitrant district in San Bernardino Superior Court. PAA and other opponents of parent-trigger laws say the law is needlessly divisive.
What they fail to mention is how union activists from Sacramento and around the state descended upon Compton and Adelanto to mount "rescission campaigns" aimed at pressuring parents to withdraw their signatures. Such campaigns are forbidden under state regulations.
Critics of "Won't Back Down" have also mounted an odd effort to "expose" the people who back parent-trigger laws, which teachers union leaders say are just a backdoor way of "privatizing" public schools. As it happens, certain wealthy philanthropists, such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates (a liberal Democrat) and Los Angeles real estate financier Eli Broad (ditto) have given millions of dollars of their hard-earned money to nonprofit charter schools. Charter schools, of course, are public schools. But most aren't unionized.
Former California state Sen. Gloria Romero, a Democrat, wrote California's parent-trigger law. Former Bill Clinton staffer Ben Austin (another liberal Democrat) runs a Los Angeles organization called the Parent Revolution, which has been at the forefront of the effort to organize parent-trigger campaigns in California.
Sacramento transplant and former Washington, D.C., public schools chief Michelle Rhee (yet another liberal Democrat) also supports the parent trigger, and she sponsored screenings of "Won't Back Down" at both the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
At the same time, groups such as the right-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council and the libertarian Heartland Institute support parent-trigger legislation, which must mean the parent trigger is bad. (Disclosure: I worked for Heartland until May 2011 and remain an unpaid and greatly underutilized education policy adviser there.)
In other words, the teachers unions and their activist allies are protesting a work of fiction loosely based on a real law that has widespread public and bipartisan support; a law that the unions and their allies have done everything in their power to derail and distort; a law that threatens the status quo and undermines union interests.
Of course, they're protesting. They're the villains.
And now everyone knows it.