Towards the end of last week’s Republican debate, Ted Cruz started his closing statement this way: “’13 Hours.’ Tomorrow morning, a new movie will debut about the incredible bravery of the men fighting for their lives in Benghazi and the politicians that abandoned them.”
The senator was referring, of course, to a new Michael Bay movie that purports to tell the story of the 2012 Benghazi attack from a conspiracy theorist’s perspective, complete with made-up details that conservatives like to believe are true, evidence be damned. Cruz offered the movie the kind of publicity that’s hard to buy, and he wasn’t alone – Donald Trump even rented out an Iowa movie theater and distributed free tickets to a showing.
GOP members of Congress and conservative media added to the push, but as it turns out, it didn’t work.
Michael Bay’s action movie about the Benghazi, Libya, terror attacks stumbled at the box office this weekend, opening at No. 4 in American theaters.“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” opened with an estimated $19.6 million domestically, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “American Sniper,” which opened the same weekend a year prior, pulled in a stunning $107.2 million, while “Lone Survivor” opened to $37 million in early January 2014.
For Michael Bay, this was the worst opening for one of his movies in a decade, and it’s on pace to lose money.
It’s possible, of course, that there will be a delayed surge in interest in “13 Hours,” but as a rule, a movie’s opening weekend is its best weekend. In this case, we’re talking about a project promoted by presidential candidates, conservative news outlets, and professional Hillary Clinton critics, but at least for now it appears to be a flop.
There’s at least some precedent for conservative activism leading to increased ticket sales – “Passion of the Christ,” for example, was very successful, in part thanks to promotion at conservative churches – and many on the right have complained that Hollywood is missing opportunities by not catering more to Republican audiences with Republican-friendly projects.
And yet, “13 Hours” has surprised many by failing to find much of an audience.
It probably doesn’t help that the reviews are quite bad. Salon’s Simon Maloy wrote this morning:
Michael Bay’s “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is a bad movie. And I’m not just talking about the filmmaking, which is bad in the way that most Michael Bay movies are bad – it’s loaded up with frenetic camera work, neck-snapping edits that make it impossible to follow the action, and gratuitous war porn. […]What makes “13 Hours” especially terrible is the way it crassly exploits the politics surrounding Benghazi. It’s not possible to make a movie about Benghazi that doesn’t carry any political significance, given the right’s enduring obsession with the attacks. But Bay’s film unsubtly pokes at every conspiracy about Benghazi while declaring itself a “true story.”
The movie’s fans probably won’t want to hear this, but the former CIA chief in Benghazi says “13 Hours” is largely a work of fiction, rehashing ideas that have already been discredited.