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Did Hillary-Bashing Help Boost Michael Bay’s ’13 Hours’ in Red States?

Republican politicians seized upon film about 2012 Benghazi embassy attack to criticize Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” Michael Bay‘s big-screen thriller about the 2012 U.S. embassy attack in which four Americans were killed, played very well in Red States as it opened wide at the box office this weekend.

But what about the Blue States?

“It’s going to be a challenge,” admitted Megan Colligan, marketing and distribution chief at Paramount Pictures, who was still pleased with the film’s $17 million four-day debut. Roughly 33 percent of the grosses came from Florida and its surrounding states, and Texas and its neighbors.

Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time of the attack, is running for president so the movie is getting plenty of attention from politicians and pundits, especially in Washington, D.C. But a statement on the presidential race is not what “13 Hours” is about, Colligan insisted.

“The movie is an apolitical and inspiring story of six guys on the ground there during the attack who went on to save 36 lives, enduring 13 hours of absolute hell, never knowing when an end was in sight,” Colligan said.

That hasn’t stopped Democratic frontrunner Clinton from being asked whether she’d seen it Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” (“I’m just too busy”), or Republican frontrunner Donald Trump from buying out an Iowa theater to screen it for supporters.

Opening weekend audiences gave “13 Hours” an “A” CinemaScore. But the mostly Red State crowd, coupled with GOP candidates using the film to jab Clinton, could turn off moviegoers in left-leaning states like California and New York.

The start, while solid, doesn’t compare with those of other war movies based on recent real-life incidents. “American Sniper” did a whopping $107 million on this weekend last year. Mark Wahlberg‘s “Lone Survivor” debuted to $37 million in January of 2014, both “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Act of Valor” brought in $24 million in their 2012 openings.

That means “13 Hours” will have to improve to offset its $50 million production budget, hardly a lock given the subject matter. James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini and Pablo Schreiber star in the film, scripted by Chuck Hogan.

How can “13 Hours” avoid losing much of its domestic audience over its politicization?

“What will do it is word of mouth from people who have seen it and understand what this movie is and what it isn’t,” said Colligan. “That’s  why we’re very happy to see that ‘A’ CinemaScore.”

“There aren’t any scenes in Washington, the movie ends when the fighting does,” noted Colligan. “It’s not about the other things.”