Marred by Controversy, Detroit Is Off to a Sluggish Start at the Box Office

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John Boyega in Detroit. Photo: Annapurna Pictures

Detroit, Kathryn Bigelow’s incendiary revisiting of the 1967 Detroit riots, is struggling to attract a commercial audience. The film debuted in select theaters to modest numbers and acclaim last week, but has faced an intensifying backlash in recent days, and is now “meeting audience resistance,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, on the weekend of its wide opening. Reaping a disappointing $2.62 million on Friday and estimated to take in less than $8 million over the weekend, the movie significantly underperformed — early tracking was at about $13 million, and the strong overall response from theatergoers didn’t create a typical word-of-mouth effect. Detroit has earned a positive critical reaction, with particular raves emerging out of the Washington Post and Variety, but has also been sharply criticized for omitting black women from the riots, its intent to shock and disturb, and the murkiness of “white filmmakers taking on black history” and pain. Others are attributing Detroit’s poor commercial showing to the release date set by first-time distributor Annapurna Pictures. “Given its critical acclaim, Detroit should have been platformed to fuel further buzz or better yet, should have launched with the fall’s triad of film festivals,” Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro wrote. “Either would have assisted in propelling the title past any hesitation that some moviegoers might have toward the controversial subject matter.” The late-summer bow was scheduled in part to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Detroit riots, which began in late July 1967.

The Controversial Detroit Is Struggling at the Box Office