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‘Bombshell’ bombing at box office isn’t exactly a shock — here’s why

It hasn’t been a good run for movies about the media in recent memory, particularly as such offerings pertain to the late Roger Ailes, the man behind the rise of Fox News. 

Exhibit A is “Bombshell,” the story of a group of women, including Nicole Kidman’s turn as Gretchen Carlson and Charlize Theron’s as Megyn Kelly, taking on the late Fox News chairman and CEO in what, on paper, looked to be a sure-fire hit for the A-list cast alone.

In addition to Kidman and Theron, the movie offers arguably the most-coveted actress in Hollywood right now in Margot Robbie and veteran award-winner John Lithgow as Ailes. Couple in the backdrop of the #MeToo era, and surely the movie would easily eclipse the film’s budget of $33 million, right? 


Breaking News: “Bombshell,” which should be leaving most theaters in short order after premiering nationwide on December 20, has generated only $15.6 million at the box office as of December 29. That’s not even half of what the movie cost to be made. 

Reviews for the film have been mixed, with a 67 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of a possible 100. Not great, like Adam Sandler’s “Uncut Gems” (92 percent rating); not completely horrible, like “Cats” (20 percent rating). Yet, given the cast and hype, a disappointment from a critical perspective and a movie that clearly has not benefited from positive word of mouth. 

Critics lauded the performances by the award-winning cast, especially Theron’s uncanny turn as Megyn Kelly that is already generating Oscar buzz. But others felt the movie fell short, calling it “hasty,” and “underwhelming.”

Are the results, both critically and at the box office, surprising? 

Not especially, particularly when considering how Ailes-themed movies and documentaries have fared in the recent past.

Exhibit B is “Divide and Conquer,” which hit the big- and small-screen last year.

Never heard of it, you say? You’re not the only one. In December 2018, the movie grossed less than $40,000 at the box office. The documentary also fared poorly on cable channel A&E weeks later, delivering just 228,000 total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

For context, HBO’s Michael Jackson documentary, “Leaving Neverland,” was watched by 1.3 million in the same time slot and notched 663,000 viewers in the 25-54 year-old demographic, even though it was on a pay-TV channel.

Exhibit C: Earlier this year, there was another Ailes offering in the form of Oscar-winner Russell Crowe portraying Ailes in Showtime’s adaptation of Gabriel Sherman’s book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — and Divided a Country.” That took in just 299,000 viewers for its premiere. For context, HBO’s “Big Little Lies” (ironically, starring Kidman) aired in the same timeslot and delivered 1.605 million viewers.

Add it all up, and it appears that there isn’t much interest in the downfall of Ailes. One reason: We all read the reports of his swift demise after Gretchen Carlson’s July 2016 lawsuit against Ailes, which led to his resignation less than three weeks later following an internal investigation by the outside law firm Paul, Weiss. From there, Alies’ alleged exploits were covered extensively and in detail.

Translation: The story arc and conclusion aren’t a surprise or a secret.

One has to wonder when other #MeToo-era movies about other major media figures will be made, given all the options available. How about a feature film on Harvey Weinstein, and Ronan Farrow’s relentless effort to get that story to print after it got killed by NBC, according to Farrow. NBC staunchly denies the claim. Sounds like an interesting story, possibly starring Harvey Fierstein and Tom Felton, no? When’s that Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose documentary coming? How about that Les Moonves miniseries on HBO?

“Bombshell’s” poor showing comes as another media-themed movie is also struggling, in the form of “Richard Jewell.” This Clint Eastwood film tells the story of the FBI and the media bungling the investigation into the 1996 Summer Olympics bombing in Atlanta and turning an innocent security guard, Jewell, into a prime suspect based on no evidence.

Box office since its December 13 release date: $16 million. Budget: $45 million

As we all know, the media in general is not very well liked in this polarized country these days. Morning Consult found that news outlets comprise 12 of the 15 most politically polarizing brands in the country out of more than 3,700 brands that the company tracks daily.

So it’s no shock when another polarizing entity – Hollywood – decides to put major money and resources into the same media story in Ailes, few people even raise an eyebrow at the prospect of actually watching it. 

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of “WOR Tonight with Joe Concha” weeknights on 710-WOR in New York. Follow him on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.  

Tags Bombshell Charlie Rose Fox News Fox News Fox News Channel Gabriel Sherman Gretchen Carlson HBO Matt Lauer NBC nielsen media research Roger Ailes Roger Ailes

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