‘The Fifth Estate’ Box-Office Belly-Flop: Julian Assange Called It

'The Fifth Estate' Box-Office Belly-Flop: Julian Assange Called It

The tale based on the WikiLeaks founder, once considered a potential Oscar contender, posts one of year's worst openings

Turns out WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a better box-office analyst than he is a draw at the multiplex.

“The Fifth Estate,” which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the online secret-stealer, bombed in its debut this weekend, taking in $1.7 million from 1,769 theaters nationwide in one of the year's biggest box-office belly flops.

That's quite a comedown for a movie that was at one point considered an Oscar contender.

“We're disappointed,” Disney's head of distribution Dave Hollis said Sunday. “The talent and the whole team worked very hard on this, so it's a major letdown.”

Also read: Julian Assange to the Hollywood Foreign Press:

It probably didn't help that Assange, who didn't cooperate in the filming, predicted the movie would tank.

In a conversation last week, he said the movie “is destined to be a box-office failure,” because audiences prefer “combative underdog” stories.

The talk was conducted for the Hollywood Foreign Press via Skype from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange has been living under diplomatic asylum for nearly 500 days.

Prior to the movie's filming, Cumberbatch approached his subject asking for a meeting. Assange not only declined, but tried to talk the actor out of appearing in the movie.

“I don't think we are in a situation anymore where an organization like DreamWorks or Disney … can succinctly decide that it is going to produce a movie about living people, and living political refugees, and people who are embroiled in a grand jury proceeding in the United States, and just smear, without the cost,” he said.

Also read: Benedict Cumberbatch on Julian Assange's Cautionary Email: ‘It Galvanized Me’

“The Fifth Estate” was in the awards discussion prior to its debut at the Toronto Film Festival last month. But a lukewarm reception from critics and audiences there killed momentum. Its positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 39 percent.

The filmmakers and Disney had hoped the ripped-from-the-headline tale about the group that publishes classified information and news leaks from anonymous sources would capture the spirit of the digital times as “The Social Network” did. That David Fincher-directed story of the how Facebook began brought in $225 million globally and earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination for Sony in 2010.

“I don't think there's near the interest In WikiLeaks that there is in Facebook,” said Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. “Think about the title – how many people even know what that means?”

Also read: Movie Titles Can Matter at the Box Office – But How Much?

(For the record, it's a reference to journalists, media outlets that operate outside of or in opposition to the mainstream media.)

The audience that did show up was 54 percent male and 90 percent over the age of 25. The latter number is troubling, as it indicates that more young people, typically more digitally savvy, weren't interested. Disney said what business it did manage came from the big cities; the film didn't begin to connect with Heartland and small-town audiences.

The film, which was directed Bill Condon and co-stars Daniel Bruhl and Anthony Mackie, was produced by DreamWorks and Participant Media for about $26 million. Even with that the relatively low budget, the film is going to be a loser.

Disney can hope that the film will play better abroad, where Assange is a more high-profile figure, but the early returns weren't encouraging there. It opened in the U.K. and Spain and brought in $1.6 million – less than it made here.

  • briantrenchardsmith

    David Fincher, not David O Russell. Please fact check before publishing.

    • http://www.thewrap.com TheWrap

      fixed, thanks.

  • bob fox

    Maybe the movie did poorly because people don't celebrate traitorous acts. His partner, the Army ex-private is serving 25 years in prison.

    • http://outinthestreetfilms.com/ Out in the Street Films

      Maybe not. No one cares. Apathy doesn't sell.

    • Prospero2

      Along with dozens–maybe hundreds of others from around the world–Private Manning did send Wikileaks material, but he was not a “partner” of Assange in any way we normally think of “partnership”.

  • Tom

    What a debacle for all involved. Everyone needs to look at each other and take their share of the blame on this one. DreamWorks delivered a turd of a movie that no even wanted to begin with. Participant was seen as driving a political agenda which turned off the bulk of the country. While Disney dumped poorly developed marketing materials into the media with seemingly no strategy behind them. Add this one to the other what-not-to-do case studies Disney/DreamWorks has given us the last few years. For every Lincoln, there are four Fifth Estate's.

    Makes me wonder how much longer DreamWorks can continue as a going concern. The money Reliance and Disney invested into DreamWorks a few years ago must surely be running out.

    • Bronxgodzilla

      Perhaps they should have hired Ben Affleck to rewrite the truth and and turn the real Assange's boring life's headlines into a thriller? If Assange were a secret operative of the CIA, the movie could have been a hit! Wait a minute. Mr Affleck already did that, I think :-) lol.

  • http://outinthestreetfilms.com/ Out in the Street Films

    The draw on Julian Assange is that he's an underdog David taking on the Goliath US government. You can't vilify the hero.

  • dmurrell

    The movie — and this is increasingly typical of our corporate Hollywood elites — villifies the U.S. and champions anti-American activists. The reason why the movie is bombing is that Western audiences do not like ultra-anti-American movies. I hope DreamWorks and Disney lose a bundle of investment money on this stinker. And since the movie cost $26-million to make, and since Disney spent a lot of money marketing the film (I saw a lot of TV ads trying to promote this stinker), it stands to reason that they will lose a lot on this. And deservedly so.

  • Emma_Goldstein

    WikiLeaks’ new documentary,”Mediastan” is an intelligent corrective to Disney's “Fifth Estate.” WikiLeaks is not MikiLeaks.

    Assange writes, “Central Asia is the most fascinating region in the world, the cream in the geopolitical layer cake. On the top, Russia, on the bottom, China; in the middle, a fight for US influence.”

    • jake west

      I saw a documentary where China lets raw sewage run out into the villagers water supply. Are you sure that's cream in the crop or “muddy water?”

  • Prospero2

    If you have no interest in having the future of electronic journalism intelligently debated in a movie, then The Fifth Estate was probably a bore. However, it did not give Assange a free pass, and (for those who appreciate charismatic performances) Cumberbatch was superb.

    And it deserves a serious review from the Wrap, not just a bunch of box-office crap.

  • jake west

    Anti-American…let's see. We are often told as European Americans this isn't our country, we are not “native American” We are to support Israel in robbing people of their homeland and natural resources-the same scenario people bitch at us about, we are told not to use the “N” word but others can wag it in our face in an attempt to racialy bully us. We are suppose to be ok with Israelis dictating all our foreign policy, (Fact check the roster and our finance leaders while you are at it)shipping jobs to China, never bring up the USS Liberty or Levone Affair. I don't think I'm anti-American I think America is anti-European American.