Ted Kennedy Scandal Pic 'Chappaquiddick' Tracking for Lowly Nationwide Debut
It looks to be the latest film about one of America's most famous political families to underperfom at the box office.
At the Toronto Film Festival last September, Bryon Allen's relatively new independent film company plunked down $4 million — plus a $16 million marketing commitment — for U.S. rights to Chappaquiddick, about the 1969 car accident that engulfed the late Ted Kennedy in scandal.
Months later, the indie movie may not clear $4 million in its nationwide debut over the April 6-8 weekend, according to tracking. If so, Chappadquiddick will become the latest film about one of the members of America's most famous political families to get voted out of office by moviegoers.
Chappaquiddick recounts how Kennedy — then a 38-year-old U.S. Senator from Massachusetts — drove off a small bridge on the eponymous Massachusetts island and left political staffer Mary Jo Kopechne, 28, to drown. The accident would forever haunt Kennedy, who subsequently announced that he wouldn't run for president in the 1972 election. He made the same decision when it came to the 1976 race.
John Curran, whose credits include The Painted Veil and We Don't Live Here Anymore, directed the film, which stars Jason Clarke as Kennedy and Kate Mara as Kopechne. The supporting cast includes Ed Helms, Bruce Dern, Jim Gaffigan and Taylor Nichols.
Originally, Curran's film was set to open in theaters Dec. 8, the heart of awards season. But the release date was subsequently pushed to April 6.
"The truth is, if it was Oscar-caliber, it would have been released last fall," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock with Exhibitor Relations. "Chappaquiddick would barely resonate on a streaming platform, let alone in theaters."
The film does, however, have a fresh 73 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. In a review when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September, Hollywood Reporter chief critic Todd McCarthy called the film "a detailed but less than gripping account of a dicey Kennedy family incident."
Political movies are always a tough proposition, but movies about members of the Kennedy clan have suffered in particular.
Oliver Stone's controversial JFK, released in 1991, fared the best on paper when earning $70.4 million domestically and $205.4 million worldwide, but it was never considered a box-office hit (it opened at No. 5 and finished at No. 17 for the year). It earned numerous Oscar nominations, including best picture and best director, and won for best cinematography and best editing.
Kevin Costner, star of JFK, also appeared in Thirteen Days in 2000. That film, which recounted how President John Kennedy and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy handled the Cuban missile crisis, only earned $34.6 million domestically despite a major nationwide push.
In 2006, the historical drama Bobby — a fictionalized account of the hours leading up the assassination of then presidential candidate Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles — topped out at $11.2 million in the U.S. and $20.2 million at the worldwide box office. Emilio Estevez directed and wrote the movie, which had a high-wattage ensemble cast including Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, Ashton Kutcher, Shia LaBeouf, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, Elijah Wood and Demi Moore.
More recently, Parkland — about the hospital where President Kennedy was taken after being shot in Dallas — topped out a mere $654,000 in its limited box-office run in 2013. Produced by Tom Hanks' Playtone, Parkland's cast included Zac Efron.
Then there was Jackie, Pablo Larrain's prestigious Jackie Kennedy biopic starring Natalie Portman. The Fox Searchlight film, released in select cinemas in the latter part of 2016, earned less than $14 million in its box-office run, even after Portman was nominated for a best actress Oscar. Peter Sarsgaard, Great Gerwig, Billy Crudup and John Hurt co-starred.