Box-Office Preview: Michael Bay's Benghazi Movie '13 Hours' Could Be Politically Divisive

13 hours still 3 - H 2016
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The 2012 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, remains a lightning-rod issue for Hillary Clinton, even if the movie doesn't reference the presidential candidate; '13 Hours' opens opposite 'Ride Along 2' and 'Norm of the North' over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Michael Bay's patriotic-themed 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi doesn't mention presidential candidate Hillary Clinton once in relation to the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy compound in Libya, but the movie could still prove politically divisive.

Benghazi has become such a lightning-rod issue for Clinton that some of her supporters may want to avoid the film entirely, at least initially, according to sources associated with the movie. 13 Hours, which opens over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, is showing the least traction in liberal areas of the Northeast and Northwest, according to those with access to prerelease surveys.

Clinton was U.S. Secretary of State during the terrorist assault on Sept. 11, 2012, that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others dead. She came under withering criticism from Republicans for security lapses and was called to testify last year on Capitol Hill.

Tracking suggests the $50 million film will open to $20 million-plus over the four-day holiday weekend. That's far short of the $107.2 million grossed by American Sniper on MLK weekend a year ago, although that film faced less competition, as well as playing well in both red states and blue states.

13 Hours could easily outperform expectations if it finds itself riding a wave of patriotism; it's also bound to do well in markets where there are military bases. Bay's movie, based on the non-fiction book of the same name, follows the six security operatives, most of them former military, who defended the diplomatic compound and nearby CIA annex. James Badge Dale, John Krasinski, Max Martini, Toby Stephens, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa and Demetrius Grosse star.

Last fall, Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore told The Hollywood Reporter that 13 Hours is a story about heroes, not politics. (The studio has good reason to stay in business with Bay, director of its Transformers series.)

"It is based on the book. And it is about the guys on the ground and what happens. Nothing takes place in Washington. There's no conversation about that," said Moore.

On Tuesday night, Paramount hosted the world premiere of the movie at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. The evening included performances by Chris Cornell, whose original song “Till the Sun Comes Back Around” appears in the film, patriotic rock band Madison Rising, led by Navy veteran Dave Bray, and The Band Perry. The event honored those who lost their lives in the attack, including two members of the security team, Tyrone 'Rone' Woods and Glen 'Bub' Doherty, with those attending the premiere asked to donate $1 to The Shadow Warriors Project Fund of the Dallas Foundation and several other groups.

Bay's pic is hardly the only action over the weekend. Ride Along 2, reuniting Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, has a shot at toppling champ Star Wars: The Force Awakens and winning the frame with a $40 million-plus debut, although Universal is being more conservative in suggesting the movie will launch somewhere north of $30 million. Two years ago, Ride Along opened to $48.6 million over the same holiday weekend.

Lionsgate's family film Norm of the North also opens.

Among holdovers, Alejandro G. Inarritu's The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, should remain a vibrant player after opening nationwide to a rousing $39.8 million last weekend and picking up Golden Globes for best picture, best director and best actor.