Just a week before the wide release of “The Fifth Estate,” the DreamWorks-produced WikiLeaks picture, Julian Assange accurately predicted how the movie would perform.
“‘The Fifth Estate’ is going to fail,” he told the Hollywood Foreign Press Association via Skype from the Ecuador Embassy in London, where he has been residing in diplomatic asylum for more than a year.
And Assange appears to be right. The movie, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of Assange, grossed just $1.7 million in 1,769 locations — the worst opening weekend for a wide-release film this year.
The movie details the ascent of the secret document leaking website, and the life of Assange, the man behind it.
Some have called the film’s dismal numbers a victory for Assange.
The WikiLeaks founder has spent the past year speaking out against “The Fifth Estate,” telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview via Skype on “This Week” that “there was no approach … by Dreamworks, in any formal capacity whatsoever.”
He added, “This is a film that is based upon my life’s work, the work of my organization; we have people in extremely serious situations.”
Leading man Cumberbatch did reach out to Assange, who turned down his request to meet in a letter.
“I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film,” Assange wrote. “I believe that it is going to be overwhelmingly negative for me and the people I care about. It is based on a deceitful book by someone who has a vendetta against me and my organization.”
In September Wikileaks released the movie’s script, detailing what it got wrong. Attached was a memo that called the movie “irresponsible, counterproductive and harmful.”
But that’s not the only bad press the film has received. Once the subject of early Oscar hype, “The Fifth Estate” also opened to dismal reviews at the Toronto Film Festival and hasn’t fared well with critics since.
But negative publicity and iffy reviews do not a box office bomb make. This year’s Steve Jobs biopic, “Jobs,” starring Ashton Kutcher, had less than stellar reviews and was slammed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as “disingenuous.” Nevertheless, “Jobs” went on to make $6.7 million in its opening weekend.
In his Hollywood Foreign Press Association interview, Assange said the film was doomed because of audiences’ preference for “combative underdog” narratives, of which the “anti-WikiLeaks” stance he said ”The Fifth Estate” portrayed was lacking.
But it may be that viewers just aren’t interested. Assange has largely been overshadowed in recent months by Edward Snowden, the exiled CIA and NSA employee who leaked classified information and was caught in battle of diplomatic Ping-Pong before Assange helped arrange asylum for him in Russia.
It also may just be a case of bad timing. “The Fifth Estate” was released during the same month as “Gravity,” which raked in another $31 million at the box office this past weekend.
“The Fifth Estate” joins a long list of political and current-event dramas already filling movie screens in 2013, including “Fruitvale Station,” about the controversial Bart shooting in Oakland, Calif., “The Butler,” inspired by the long-serving White House butler Eugene Allen, and “Captain Phillips,” an action-thriller detailing the events surrounding a Somali pirate raid on an Alabama merchant ship.