The Last Time a Clint Eastwood Movie Bombed Like ‘Richard Jewell’ Did in Its Opening Weekend

Clint Eastwood has enjoyed both critical acclaim and wild commercial success in his career as a director. American Sniper (2014), the story of a war hero who has trouble adjusting back to civilian, grossed some $350 million in the U.S. alone.

While that film tops the list for box office in Eastwood’s career, he’s been on a roll in the 2010s. Sully (2016), about another American hero, grossed over $125 million in the U.S. Even The Mule (2018), which got off to a slow start, ended up topping the $100 million mark.

The same likely won’t be said for Richard Jewell, Eastwood’s 2019 picture about a suspect of the Atlanta Olympics bombing . After a slow opening night had experts predicting the film would be a flop, Richard Jewell ended the weekend with a take in the neighborhood of $5 million.

If the final tally matches that number, it would be the worst opening for an Eastwood movie in 39 years.

‘Bronco Billy’ was a previous low point for Eastwood openings

Kathy Bates, Paul Walter Hauser, Clint Eastwood, Barbara “Bobi” Jewell, Sam Rockwell, Jon Hamm, Nadya Bryant and Watson Bryant Jr. attend “Richard Jewell” screening on December 10, 2019. | Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Warner Bros.

In an item on the prospects of Richard Jewell, Variety placed the opening weekend of Eastwood’s film in context. Should the $5 million estimate get confirmed, the director’s latest would be his all-time worst opening after Bronco Billy (1980).

That picture, which starred Eastwood and Sondra Locke, managed $3.7 million in its first weekend in theaters. Even if Richard Jewell outperforms its dim expectations, it would still be a disappointment, box-office-wise.

Right now, Eastwood’s new film sits in the ballpark of vintage flops Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) and True Crime (1999). Both these films barely topped $5 million in their opening weekends.

Still, you can’t completely write off Richard Jewell yet. One industry analyst pointed to The Mule as an example in the Variety piece. After opening with less than $20 million in its first weekend, Eastwood’s 2018 picture managed to gross over $100 million by picking up steam around the holidays.

Bad press didn’t help the cause of ‘Richard Jewell’ early

It's been a while since a Clint Eastwood movie stumbled out of the gate like 'Richard Jewell' did.
Clint Eastwood and his stars attend a “Richard Jewell” screening in Atlanta, December 2019. | Prince Williams/Wireimage

While we’ve seen solid reviews for Richard Jewell, the film received a slew of bad press prior to its opening. Part of that came from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the newspaper that reported on the real-life Jewell’s status as a suspect in the 1996 bombing case.

In the film, Olivia Wilde portrays Kathy Scruggs, an AJC reporter whom the filmmakers portray offering sex to an FBI agent in exchange for information. AJC editors responded with force, threatening a defamation lawsuit and questioning the choice. (Scruggs apparently did no such thing.)

With a lawsuit in the air and Richard Jewell’s portrayal of Scruggs in obvious bad taste, the film might have benefited from the publicity (negative or not). However, that wasn’t the case.

If Eastwood’s film continues staggering at the box office, it could leave Warner Bros. more than $20 million short. Its budget stood at $45 million before marketing costs.

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