Football knows box office—at the stadium, not the cinema.
Concussion opened to disastrous ticket sales at theaters across North America this holiday weekend. BoxOfficeMojo.com projects a sixth-place finish for the Bennet Omalu biopic starring Will Smith. It finished fifth on Christmas Day but slipped in the standings as the weekend progressed. By Sunday, Concussion ranked as seventh best at the box office.
One headline maintained “‘Concussion’ Could Change the Way Youth Football Is Played Forever,” while another proclaimed: “Why the Movie ‘Concussion’ Spells Trouble for the NFL—and Moral Angst for the Rest of Us.” But the heady expectations surrounding the film met the hard reality of public indifference toward the crusading cause of Concussion.
The film receives widespread criticism for its deviance from the facts even as it lectures the NFL to “Tell the truth.” The Associated Press reported that the film credits Omalu with discovering and naming chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)—despite medical journals noting such a condition more than 85 years ago and naming the condition more than 65 years ago. Slate’s Daniel Engber faults the film for suggesting suicide for a player who died of a heart attack. “In real life, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hall of Fame center [Mike Webster] ended up homeless, drug-addicted, confused, and so beset by chronic back pain that he could hardly sleep,” Engber writes. “At one point he grew so desperate for some rest that he bought a stun gun so he could zap his leg to knock himself unconscious. But according to the film, those self-administered shocks may have been the cause of death. Concussion shows Webster on the autopsy table right after getting zapped—a suicide by Taser.” Breitbart Sports pointed out that the entire premise of the film that the NFL persecuted Omalu falls on the fact that a journal linked to the league published his article revealing his discovery of CTE in a former football player.
But ultimately boredom, not BS, kept audiences away.
The holiday-weekend opening saw the movie grab a domestic total of $11 million. BoxOfficeMojo.com lists a production budget of $35 million for the film. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Daddy’s Home, Joy, Sisters, and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip all sold more tickets than Concussion.
Meanwhile, NBC’s Sunday Night Football looks likely to again finish first in the weekly television ratings. Americans like watching football on the weekend. They don’t much like getting lectured about football on the weekends.