Whoever thought it would be box office gold to make a fawning doc about COVID-Czar Dr. Anthony Fauci probably shouldn’t be allowed to make any more film production decisions. Last month, National Geographic Documentary Films released “Fauci” in theaters across New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, and New Orleans. And even though all of those cities are essentially “deep blue” Liberal strongholds populated by many folks who potentially have Fauci prayer candles on their shelves, from the looks of it, audiences were not flocking to the theaters to see it, and now that it’s available on streaming, those who have seen it, are not impressed.
For such a high-profile topic and related to the world’s current zeitgeist, I was surprised to learn that unlike other films in limited release, no major film site, from BoxOfficeMojo.com, IMDB.com, RottenTomatoes.com or even Boxoffice Pro — has published the film’s earnings to date. And neither National Geographic nor Magnolia Pictures, the studios coproducing the film, have publicized any sales figures from its two-plus weeks in limited release, which is highly unusual.
Currently, the trailer has 7.7k Likes and 102k Dislikes
Last week the film debuted on the Disney+ streaming platform, and it appears that Rotten Tomatoes is still withholding the Audience Ratings score. The website claims 50 user reviews are needed before they begin calculating the Audience Score, but similarly released films reached that threshold quite rapidly. I believe this can easily be explained one of two ways. Either the film is indeed a bomb that no one is interested in watching (all attendees had to present proof of vaccination) and therefore no one has a review for it, or Rotten Tomatoes is currently throttling the user ratings – again to protect the film’s reputation. That’s right, this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve adjusted the way they handle scoring, specifically when it comes to Disney-owned content.
Currently, the film review aggregate site hosts only a single, lackluster audience member review to date. Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) on the other hand has a withering 1.5/10 rating, though it’s certainly likely that many of the doctor’s detractors rated it without actually having seen the film. The same goes for Metacritic’s assessment of Fauci, where the User score is even more abysmal, rating it 0.4 out of a possible 10.
The synopsis for the documentary is as follows:
“Fauci delivers a rare glimpse into the long-standing professional career and personal life of the ultimate public servant, who after a lifetime of service faced his biggest test: a pandemic whose ferocity is unmatched in modern history. With his signature blend of scientific acumen, candor, and integrity, Dr. Anthony Fauci became a cultural icon during the COVID-19 pandemic. But that has come at a cost as he has also faced attacks from adversaries in a nation increasingly divided by political party lines – with science increasingly caught in the crosshairs.”
While not surprising to some, it’s still quite extraordinary that the studios would withhold the film’s earnings. According to JustTheNews.com Shawn Robbins, chief analyst with Boxoffice Pro:
…it’s “incredibly uncommon” for a major studio release to withhold its box office earnings. Some did just that at the height of the pandemic, but most resumed their transparency as theaters opened nationwide earlier this year.
Robbins notes that Warner Bros. which released its titles in both theatres and HBO Max this year, shares only weekend and weekly figures, not daily data.
“Niche distributors often lack the proper resources for data reporting. That may or may not be the case with this particular documentary,” says Robbins, who isn’t aware of any box office-style predictions for “Fauci” in the weeks leading up to its release.
National Geographic and Magnolia Pictures are smaller studios creating independent-minded films like the Oscar-winning “Free Solo” and “A Hijacking,” respectively. Still, recent Magnolia releases like “Swan Song,” “Censor” and “The East” have box office data on sites like BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Robbins says it’s too soon to say “Fauci” is a box office disappointment.
“There’s no way to be sure at this stage,” he says.
The lack of mainstream audience interest could be tied to the politics of the subject mater. The Walt Disney Co., which owns National Geographic, has very close ties to the Chinese Communist Party, and the film makes several comparisons to the AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics to juxtapose people who blamed gays for AIDS and those who blame China for the coronavirus. As David Ng of Breitbart reports:
Fauci examines the career of Dr. Anthony Fauci through the double lens of coronavirus and AIDS, comparing how he handled both crises and the accompanying political blowback.
In one sequence around the 45-minute mark, the filmmakers juxtapose archival footage of people who blamed gays for the AIDS pandemic with more recent footage of then-President Donald Trump and his supporters blaming China for the spread of the coronavirus.
“We had the greatest year and then we got hit by the China plague,” Trump said in one clip. Another clip shows Trump’s trade and manufacturing adviser Peter Navarro going on the attack. “China has put 40 million Americans out of work, and killed 100,000 Americans,” he told Fox News’ Sunday Morning Futures.
The documentary also includes footage of Trump supporters protesting in the streets, with one sign reading, “This is war, USA vs China.”
Christian Toto suggests that the reason for the film’s poor reception among regular moviegoers might be due to increasingly negative perceptions of the doctor after recent bad press:
The left-leaning Intercept published a story suggesting Dr. Fauci, who has served under seven presidents, wasn’t being truthful when he testified on Capitol Hill about any U.S.-China connection regarding “gain-of-function” virus research.
Documents reveal that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where many suspect the COVID-19 virus originated, made viruses more transmissible to learn more about them. The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) helped fund projects at the Chinese lab.
Dr. Fauci told Congress in May that NIH “has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.”
Senator Rand Paul and Dr. Fauci clashed on Capitol Hill when the Kentucky lawmaker accused the medical advisor of lying about gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. Fauci has remained adamant that the National Institutes of Health grants did not fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, though he has acknowledged that he is unaware about what goes on in the secretive Chinese lab. Senator Paul sent a criminal referral to the Department of Justice following their most recent hearings.
Whatever the reason for the odd response to this film, if information ever comes out that Dr. Fauci is more of a villain than the hero the press would have us believe, will National Geographic and Walt Disney memory-hole this documentary? And if he turns out to have been responsible for gain-of-function research funding in Wuhan, how pleased is China right now with Disney’s pro-Fauci propaganda?
Update: Audience Score has been updated as of this afternoon. An absolute disaster.