Box Office Flop for 13 Hours? 8

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.

8 thoughts on “Box Office Flop for 13 Hours?

  1. Reply Thomas Pluck Jan 19,2016 15:24

    Not that I want to see the film, but I don’t understand why they didn’t call it Benghazi.

    • Reply Rachael Jan 19,2016 17:16

      I’m also confused about that too. I could have sworn that was what it was called when I first saw the previews, but the title “13 Hours” feels like a real misfire. Right up there with “Edge of Tomorrow.” Is it action? Is it scifi? Does the hero have just 13 hours to get the girl to fall in love with him? Will the serial killer ghost crawl out of your toilet and disembowel you 13 hours after you eat the cursed pickled egg? I CAN’T TELL.

      • Reply Frank Jan 19,2016 17:25

        I’d swear the first trailers said it was Benghazi as well. But the book it’s based on was titled 13 Hours: The inside account of what really happened in Benghazi, so that’s where he took the title from.

  2. Reply Frank Jan 19,2016 17:17

    I’ve heard that for anything like a current movie John Carter wins for floppiest opening weekend. $30M vs $250M production. Overall might have broken even, including advertising, as it hit $284M worldwide. But truly crappy first weekend, as percentage of budget. And not even number 1 that weekend!

    • Reply Rachael Jan 19,2016 22:18

      I found this rather entertaining list:

      So if that’s to be believed, 47 Ronin managed to outflop John Carter. Well deserved.

      • Reply Frank Jan 25,2016 14:54

        Interesting list of flops. I do think John Carter would have been at the top except for the world wide receipts. Truly tanked on opening weekend but that’s a different sort of flop. Just happy that I’ve only seen 2 of the films on their list. :D

  3. Reply styles bitchley (@BitchleyStyles) Jan 20,2016 12:57

    Rachel you must be smoking crack! I saw this movie and it had me on the edge of me seat the whole 2 hours!

    • Reply Rachael Jan 20,2016 13:02

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the movie! I’m not passing any judgments here about the quality of its writing. I haven’t seen it, and as is probably plain by a bit of my snark, I’m not really interested in seeing it either because I have read more than enough about the factual disputes and politicization. (Which is also not to say it isn’t well written or well directed, just that I’m uninterested in watching it at this time.) I’m only looking at the opening weekend box office take, which is not a number in dispute.

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