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"Richard Jewell" flops at the box office its opening weekend following controversy

Richard Jewell: The 1996 "60 Minutes" interview
Richard Jewell: The 1996 "60 Minutes" intervi... 14:42

The weekend box office numbers are in, and one particular film flopped after facing controversy ahead of its debut. Clint Eastwood's "Richard Jewell" raked in only $5 million its opening weekend, about half of what was expected, according to IMDB's Box Office Mojo. The film faced criticism over its depiction of a real-life female reporter, Kathy Scruggs, who is played by actress Olivia Wilde.

"Richard Jewell" follows the story of the titular character, a security guard who was initially hailed as a hero but then suspected of planting a bomb at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Jewell was later exonerated. The movie depicts Scruggs, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper reporter, offering sex for confidential information from an FBI source about the case. 

Ahead of the film's premiere, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called this depiction "false," "malicious," and "extremely defamatory" in a letter released earlier this month.

The letter was sent to director Clint Eastwood, screenwriter Billy Ray, Warner Bros., and other parties. Lawyers for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its parent company said Scruggs, who died in 2001, was reduced to a "sex-trading object in the film."

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Richard Jewell's attorney Lin Wood holds a copy of the Atlanta Journal during a press conference in 1996. Jewell sued several media organizations for defamation of character. DOUG COLLIER/AFP/Getty Images

Following the backlash from the newspaper and journalists around the country, Wilde defended her portrayal of Scruggs. On the eve of the film's release, Wilde wrote on Twitter that she considers Scruggs a "bold, smart, and fearlessly undeterred" reporter. "I cannot even contemplate the amount of sexism she may have faced in the way of duty," she said.

"Contrary to a swath of recent headlines, I do not believe that Kathy 'traded sex for tips,'" Wilde wrote. "Nothing in my research suggested she did so, and it was never my intention to suggest she had. That would be an appalling and misogynistic dismissal of the difficult work she did." 

Despite Wilde's comments, the film apparently failed to resonate with moviegoers. The film had an underwhelming opening weekend, making only about $1.5 million to $1.9 million on each of its first three days in theaters, on more than 2,500 screens nationwide.

AFI FEST 2019 Presented By Audi – "Richard Jewell" Premiere – Red Carpet
Actor Paul Walter Hauser, left, and director Clint Eastwood attend the "Richard Jewell" premiere on November 20, 2019 in Hollywood, California. Getty Images

In comparison, "Jumanji: The Next Level," which also premiered this weekend, grossed more than $60 million in the U.S. and $212 million worldwide between December 13 through 15, making it the highest-earning film this weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

"Frozen II" had been topping the box office for four consecutive weeks, grossing $204,912,652 worldwide in its first weekend, November 22 to 24. This weekend, "Frozen II" dropped to second place.

Third place went to "Knives Out," which raked in another $9.2 million this weekend for a total of nearly $79 million since its debut.

In fourth was "Richard Jewell," which was expected to make $10 million its opening weekend, but instead made it onto the "50 worst openings ever" list, according to Box Office Mojo. It is unclear what the film's budget cost and if it has broken even.

Following "Richard Jewell" was Black Christmas, which made an estimated $4.4 million. The remake of the 1974 holiday horror also made Box Office Mojo's list of "50 worst openings ever."

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