While Michael Bay’s newest movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi makes a concerted effort to not take a side on the contentious issue of its subject matter, that hasn’t stopped the film from becoming a political topic anyway. The film has become a talking point for presidential candidates, so it’s not surprising that your likelihood of seeing the movie correlated to which one you might support. It appears that the movie did much better among "red state" moviegoers than those in more Liberal areas.
According to Variety, 13 Hours did 41% of its total business in the American South, when most other films only did 33% of their business in the same markets. In addition, The red state box office outperformed others by about 25%. While this news isn’t really what Paramount pictures was looking for, it’s not particularly surprising.
13 Hours, much like American Sniper before it, had become a political lightning rod, whether the studio wanted it or not. While director Michael Bay has said that he tried to make the film apolitical, that hasn’t stopped politicians from picking a side. Presidential candidate Donald Trump rented out a theater in Iowa and gave away free movie tickets because he thought it was a movie that people needed to see. With moves like that, a tacit endorsement of the film it’s hardly surprising that it might drive those of a particular political stripe into a movie theater.
In addition, while it's not entirely clear if the prospective audience informed the marketing, or vice versa, it’s clear that Paramount saw some degree of success among a particular crowd. 13 Hours had its world premiere at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas, as opposed to a more traditional location like New York or Los Angeles. This was certainly a calculated effort to court an audience.
What isn’t actually clear here is if the difference in political identification is due to an influx from one side of the political spectrum, or a lack of attendance from the other side. Paramount’s vice-chairman Rob Moore lamented the way that politics have infused a movie that was meant to be a simple story of heroism. It’s clear he thinks that the film lost some amount of business because of the division. He said it seemed it be difficult for more "liberal leaning" movie fans to buy tickets due to the perceived political statement.
13 Hours first weekend at the box office was not a stellar one, opening in fourth place. While the red state audience may have been the one attending, it looks like they're not getting behind this one they did with American Sniper. It will be interesting to see if the marketing goes through any major changes in the coming weeks to try and draw people back to the theater.