The film First Man should be Oscar gold. It tells the tale of Neil Armstrong, portrayed by Ryan Gosling, the first man to land on the moon. The accomplishments of Armstrong are supposedly universal, controversy-less stories. However, debates raged all over the place, with sides praising or condemning choices made in the movie. On top of all of this, the movie’s first weekend at the box office was far-less than spectacular. We tried breaking down what happened.
The Cut Scene That Started It All
From the beginning, the movie was fraught with controversies. Weeks before First Man‘s release, a left out scene sparked the biggest issue. The film’s creators decided not to include a scene where, after landing on the moon, Armstrong plants an American flag in the ground. Many viewed this as “anti-American,” while others thought it was fine to leave it out.
Gosling, alongside the creators, defended the decision. Gosling said, “I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement and that’s how we chose to view it. […] I also think Neil was extremely humble. …From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil.”
The Presidential Response
In early September, during an Oval Office interview with the Daily Caller, President Trump said, “…It’s almost like they’re embarrassed at the achievement coming from America. […] When you think of Neil Armstrong, and when you think of the landing on the moon, you think about the American flag.” Senator Marco Rubio, as well as Buzz Aldrin, condemned this decision and movie in a tweet.
Through all the debate, one thing was clear: viewers would make their decision at the box office.
The Box Office Flop
Political movements or the current zeitgeist can make or break a film. Opinions are mixed as to why First Man failed at the box office. However, most critics agree the movie is just not great, with or without the American flag. As for American patriotism, many critiques said the film features plenty of American symbols, from the flag on the spaceship to JFK’s appearance. But some industry experts said the movie “scared off” crowds, meaning it simply didn’t look “fun” to watch.
We’ve got movies like Apollo 13 and Hidden Figures, which depict similar human struggles and achievements, but these both soared at the box office. Whatever you think of these films, one thing is true: they are hopeful and optimistic. Even though First Man is about one of humanity’s most significant accomplishments, there’s a grim, bitter taste to the journey the hero goes through. Obviously, Armstrong’s process was long, grueling – and rewarding. But perhaps First Man was a little too dark, or not audience-friendly enough.
First Man‘s Competition And Safe Bets
Another reason First Man flopped might be the competition in theaters. Even though it isn’t summertime, First Man went up against hits Venom (second week in number one place), which grossed $158 million, and A Star Is Born which made over $112 million, so far. Escapist films and sweet endings are in! Despite its uplifting, real-life story, First Man simply could not live up to what people really want to see.
Lastly, there’s Gosling. Even though he’s one of the most talented men in the industry, his box-office openings are not that great. Blade Runner 2049 opened with $32 million, and Nice Guys (from 2016) opened with $10 million. It isn’t consistent – La La Land was a smash hit – but Gosling isn’t a safe bet. Meaning, people don’t run to the cinema to watch him (unlike, for example, Tom Cruise, The Rock, and Meryl Streep). Regardless of his draw, critics agree on one thing: Gosling does an excellent job in First Man. He, and the movie, portray Armstrong in the most honorable, respectful way.