Michael Bay’s Benghazi fan-fic thriller 13 Hours is on track to make $19 million at the box office this weekend, Variety reports. Nearly half of that—41 percent—will come from theaters in the South, where the movie out-performed other areas by 25 percent.
Apart from its regional success, this is an underwhelming performance for Bay: The most recent Transformers movie cracked $100 million on its opening weekend. Even Pain & Gain topped $20 million. (Ride Along 2, meanwhile, also debuted this weekend at somewhere around $34 million.)
Much of what has likely inhibited the film’s performance is disagreement not only over the interpretation of the facts on which it is purportedly based but also those facts themselves. The CIA’s Benghazi station chief—now retired, but identified only by his first name, “Bob,” because his cover hasn’t been lifted yet—rejected the film’s portrayal of his actions. “I thought I would regret it if I didn’t,” Bob told the Washington Post. “So much of this information has been wrong.”
An agency spokesman, Ryan Trapani, went even further. “No one will mistake this movie for a documentary,” he told the Post. “It’s a distortion of the events and people who served in Benghazi that night. It’s shameful that, in order to highlight the heroism of some, those responsible for the movie felt the need to denigrate the courage of other Americans who served in harm’s way.”
Box office update: 13 HOURS' estimated three-day debut: $16M. Adjusting for inflation, that's Michael Bay's worst opening weekend ever.— Adam B. Vary (@adambvary) January 17, 2016
Rob Moore, vice-chairman of Paramount, the studio that made the $50 million war porn, bemoaned the fact that criticism of the film has become political. “It feels like it was hard for people to buy a ticket if they were more liberal leaning,” Moore said. “It’s sad that this gets turned into a political debate as opposed to a conversation about who did the right thing and who was heroic.”
The film is a departure for Bay, who is best known for overseeing the “Transformers” and “Bad Boys” franchises. Though “American Sniper” became the highest-grossign domestic release of 2014, studios tend to steer clear of politically charged movies such as “13 Hours.” For one thing, they tend not to play as well internationally — a major drawback at a time when foreign ticket sales can comprise nearly 70% of a picture’s gross.
But this was a passion project for Bay and a reward for his role in guiding the “Transformers” films for Paramount. It’s no accident that the studio recently announced Bay will direct the fifth film in the Autobots series.
To position the Transformers movies as somehow less “politically charged” than 13 Hours—after all, they’re both works of fantasy!—is laughable, considering how closely the Department of Defense worked with Bay on those movies (and Pearl Harbor, and Armageddon). Verisimilitude is very important, though.