“White House Down” was supposed to be one of the surefire hits of the summer.
Channing Tatum became a bona fide movie star last year with a sleeper hit trifecta of “The Vow,” “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” (not to mention being named People’s Sexiest Man Alive). Jamie Foxx was coming off his biggest box office success to date with the Oscar nominated “Django Unchained.” And director Roland Emmerich has experience both directing blockbuster hits (“2012,” “The Day After Tomorrow”) and destroying the White House in a patriotic summer movie sensation (“Independence Day”).
But even with that pedigree and high profile pre-release hype dating all the way back to Jimmy Kimmel’s post-Oscars ABC special (where Foxx and Tatum turned catchy/silly slow jam “Channing All Over Your Tatum” into a viral hit), “White House Down” shocked Hollywood with a embarrassingly limp $25.7 million estimated opening weekend.
That’s the lowest action movie debut so far this summer (below the woeful “After Earth”), and although it’s a bigger bow than at least one major June release — the much lower budgeted comedy “This Is the End” — it’s unlikely to share that film’s box office staying power.
So, what the heck happened? A few theories…
1) “Olympus Has Fallen” already scratched the itch
Audiences already saw one “Die Hard”-style action extravaganza featuring the President in jeopardy and the White House under attack this year. Why see another? “Olympus” — starring Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman — opened to a surprisingly strong $30 million back in March and went on to gross nearly $100 million in the US. Not a mega-hit, but a solid performer that most action fans probably made time to see.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter when a movie is second out of the gate with a similar idea (“Armageddon” was bigger than “Deep Impact,” “Snow White and the Huntsman” was bigger than “Mirror, Mirror”). In this case, it probably did.
2) There was too much unexpected competition
When “White House Down” nabbed its late June release date, “World War Z” was suffering from bad word of mouth due to reshoots and scheduling changes and “The Heat” wasn’t yet targeted for summer (it was actually, weirdly, originally set to open against “Olympus Has Fallen”). Even after “The Heat” shifted to summer and the “White House” release date loomed near, it seemed like Foxx and Tatum would be able to go toe to toe with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.
But the funny ladies kicked the pretty boys’ butts with a $40 million opening, and likely lured away many of Tatum’s female fans (both movies drew more women than men on opening weekend, but “White House Down” was closer to an even split).
Meanwhile, “World War Z” turned into a genuine hit, earning $4 million more in its second weekend than “White House” did in its first.
3) The politics hit too close to home
Casting Aaron Eckhart (or Bill Pullman or Harrison Ford) as the President is one thing, but casting Jamie Foxx immediately invites comparisons to current commander-in-chief Barack Obama. Whether those comparisons have merit or not, in an age where every movie is politicized in some corners of the Internet it just gives conservative critics another reason to complain. Especially since Foxx’s president is an unabashed hero and the villains are right-wing nuts. (Although anyone who believes the ludicrous events in “White House” remotely resemble anything in the real world probably needs a mental health check-up.)
4) Channing Tatum isn’t an action star … yet
The relative failure of “White House” won’t hurt Tatum that much — his star was already on the rise and he has multiple projects lined up. But it’s another sign that audiences may not necessarily embrace him in action roles. His biggest box office hit in the US is “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” which earned $150 million but was still considered a disappointment relative to expectations. Otherwise his success has been exclusive to the romance and comedy genres.
“21 Jump Street” balanced its goofy comedy with enough action to suggest Tatum has potential in the genre and he handles himself comfortably in both the fight scenes and larger scale set pieces of “White House.” But looking like an action hero and actually having drawing power as an action hero are two different things. He’ll have another test next year with the Wachowski siblings’ sci-fi adventure “Jupiter Ascending.”
5) It just wasn’t good enough
The summer has had its share of movies embraced by both audiences and critics — “Iron Man 3,” “Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “World War Z,” “This is the End” and “Monsters University” — but it hasn’t been so easy for movies with more negative reviews. Aside from “Man of Steel” and “The Great Gatsby,” which both overcame middling reviews to light up the box office, most of the critically dismissed movies (including “After Earth,” “Epic,” “The Hangover Part III” and “The Internship”) have underperformed or flopped.
With a poor 48% score on Rotten Tomatoes and low 51 on Metacritic, “White House” split critics between those who found the over-the-top action ridiculously entertaining and those who found it just ridiculous — with most falling into the latter camp.
Audiences polled by CinemaScore graded “White House” a solid A-, but how much of that potential audience stayed away after reading reviews? And how much bigger could it have been if the movie was as smart and fun as, say, the original “Die Hard” instead of playing like a lesser rip-off?