Almost 18 years to the day, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, which was at the time the largest terrorist attack on US soil. 20th Century Fox was in an odd position of marketing their prime summer tent pole, the bomb-filled Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Bruce Willis famously said that he didn't want to trivialize the tragedy by discussing it in terms of a fictional action picture, which is probably what Paramount needs to say. Press on, perhaps show a few less explosions and a few more outer-space flying shots to the TV campaign, let the press ask everyone about it during the junket, and move on accordingly. Star Trek Into Darkness's box office probably won't be harmed by the real-life similarities any more than The Dark Knight Rises was negatively affected by the Aurora Colorado shooting that took place during a midnight screening of said movie. Columnists and pundits hemmed and hawed about the movie that really had no connection to the kind of random violence committed during that midnight showing, but the Chris Nolan Batman finale still pulled in $448 million domestic and over $1 billion worldwide.
But a flurry of smaller films that had a loose connection to the tragedy (Big Trouble, A View From the Top, Bad Company, Collateral Damage, etc.) were delayed and all bombed pretty hard. Small films often can't stand the heat of being associated with negative current events. Idle Hands (a horror comedy about a stoner who gets possessed and slaughters his fellow high-schoolers) would likely have been DOA regardless, but its release soon after the Columbine shootings didn't help. Meanwhile, the already successful The Matrix didn't suffer one iota from being (wrongly) tagged as a kind of theoretical inspiration for the kind of shooting spree that Klebold and Harris committed. But I'd argue bigger films are not only mostly unaffected by an 'life imitates art' situation. They can actually benefit from it.
I've already discussed Spider-Man, but did the 9/11 attacks help audiences and critics view Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and especially The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring in a slightly different light? Did their epic respective journeys of young heroes grieving loved ones struck down by evil and forced into horrible circumstances purely due to the times they happened to be living in resonate more with audiences due to the events that preceded them? I can only speculate, and much of their respective successes came from the fact that they were exceptional fantasy adventures. But surely they were the kind of mournful, thoughtful, yet ultimately hopeful and optimistic heroes' journeys that resonated just a bit more in light of current events.
Relative quality and successful marketing aside, they were arguably the films we needed at the time we needed them. Will Star Trek Into Darkness's tale of a young Captain Kirk chasing a lone wolf terrorist operate as a prescient parable for current events? Will Tony Stark's face-off with The Mandarin resonate as more than just a superhero smack down? Will Man of Steel be precisely the film we need during this somewhat dark hour, an inspirational and ultimately optimistic ode to the classic ideals of Americana and the best potential in humanity? Will these films, like Spider-Man eleven years ago, connect on a larger scale than predicted due to their theoretical cathartic potential?
I have little else to offer, aside from the hope that this is the last time we'll have to talk about this for a long time.