Saw this piece from the Hill crowing about the Benghazi film flopping at the box office. A Michael Bay movie about an annoying conspiracy theory not doing well? Doesn’t break my heart.
Though of course there’s arguments going on (generally drawn along political lines, unsurprisingly) about if it actually is a flop, because hey, $19.6 million is not an amount of money to sneeze at. So I got curious and decided to look a little more into the context. What exactly does constitute a flop?
To begin with, the operational definition of a “flop” seems to be: a movie that fails to make back its production budget. This is actually fairly generous, considering that advertising/distribution/marketing isn’t included in that number and would make the bar notably higher. For 13 Hours, the production budget is $50 million. So on opening weekend, it got back about 40% of its production budget, which is… not great.
It means that in the following weeks (and with whatever [unlikely] international success the movie might enjoy) 13 Hours could conceivably make back its budget, though this is by no means assured. It’s been getting middling reviews at 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, but audiences have it at 88% and word of mouth is a thing. And it’s not like good reviews are required for a movie to make money, just look at Ride Along 2 at 13%. Oof.
Now, if you look at the biggest opening weekend flops of 2015, which made less than $4 million their first weekend, it could have been a lot worse, yes, though I’m not sure “it had an opening weekend five times better than Victor Frankenstein” is really that much of a comfort. But it is fair to say that burying 13 Hours next to Jem and the Holograms might be a tad premature. It could still hobble to the finish line!
On the other hand, consider that American Sniper ($58.8 million production budget), which presumably had a similar target audience, scored $105.3 million on the same opening weekend in 2015. And 13 Hours is a film by Michael Bay who, love him or hate him like I do, normally brings in the money. That cinematic effluvia that almost destroyed my liver, Transformers 4, made $100 million domestic its first weekend on a film with a $210 million budget. While that might sound comfortingly closer, percentage-of-production-budget-wise (47% versus 39%) to what’s going on with 13 Hours, keep in mind that Transformers 4 was an international powerhouse. Almost 80% of its money got made internationally, which is highly unlikely for 13 Hours. Domestically, Transformers 4 only made $35 million over its budget. (See Box Office Mojo for where I’m getting my numbers.)
Anyway, there’s some serious mental gymnastics (and a deep desire to see one’s favorite conspiracy theory on the big screen, I suppose) required to see $19.6 million as anything other than highly disappointing.
Another thing to consider: the movie that blew 13 Hours out of the water this weekend, Ride Along 2, made $48.6 million upon opening, on a movie that had a $40 million production budget. (And I’d be curious what its advertising budget looked like in comparison to 13 Hours as well.) See, that’s what success looks like.
(Just for funsies, I looked up the opening domestic weekend for The Force Awakens. $248 million on a film with a $200 million budget.)
So anyway, is it fair to crow about 13 Hours being the floppingest flop that ever flopped, take that Benghazi conspiracy theorists? Eh, it could have been much worse, and it’s not inconceivable that it’ll at least recover its production budget, which is more than a lot of other movies with bigger budgets (ahem, 47 Ronin) ever manage. But you’ve got to be kidding yourself if you think $19.6 million is “good.” Maybe in the same universe where 13 Hours isn’t conspiracy fanfiction.
Just a little update on 3/18/16: Per the BoxOfficeMojo numbers, 13 Hours has managed to make back its production budget and score a little besides. (Numbers here.) $63.6 million on a $50 million production budget. So technically, it has clawed its way out of being a flop, barely! Definitely not anything to write home about, financially.