Movies

Teachers Win Again as Won't Back Down Sets New Box-Office-Bomb Record

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Oscar-winner Holly Hunter couldn't bring audiences out.

Capping a fall semester that has already seen a court throw out the pension reforms of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the Chicago Teachers Union deliver a serious beating to Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), public school teachers can claim a new victory against Hollywood (DD): The parent-trigger drama Won't Back Down, a prominent target of educator unions, has now entered the record books as Tinseltown's biggest box office failure.

From the Huffington Post's Cavan Sieczkowski

"Won't Back Down" took in a rough $2.6 million its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, setting the record for worst opening of a film that released in over 2,500 theaters. The flick beat Rainn Wilson's "The Rocker," Drew Barrymore's 2007 romantic drama "Lucky You," Luke Wilson's family comedy "Hoot" and Jennifer Aniston's "Rumor Has It" for the dubious honor.

"The Rocker" had been in the top spot since 2008…

"Despite the best efforts of its talented leads, 'Won't Back Down' fails to lend sufficient dramatic heft or sophistication to the hot-button issue of education reform," reads the Rotten Tomatoes review.

The theme of the film is not necessarily the issue. Other films about the education system, including "Stand and Deliver" and "Dangerous Minds" have been very successful.

Is the movie's failure a referendum on public school teacher unions? Probably not. Although the snippets at Rotten Tomatoes suggest some viewers did take offense at the film's labor politics, Katherine Mangu-Ward's kindly but lukewarm Reason.com review noted that Won't Back Down didn't offer a lot of entertainment value: 

The movie is well made, and quite painless, considering the genre. The necessary explainers are handled smoothly and with some humor (Gyllenhal's character, the inappropriately clad Erin Brockovich of school reform, asks why her daughter's terrible teacher can't be fired and then shouts, exasperated, "Oh yeah, 'cuz she's tenurized!") And Davis' dead-eyed stare when that same teacher pours herself the last of the coffee and then waltzes out of the teachers' lounge without making a new pot is terrifyingly true-to-life.

The film even goes out of its way to give teachers unions their due—we hear all about about "Mr. Cooper" who would have lost his job for showing his kids Hair if it weren't for the union—but ultimately slots union fat cats as the villains. One particularly nice moment has a union bigwig, played Holly Hunter in a marvelously clichéd beige beret, trying to buy off Gyllenhaal with what is essentially a voucher—a scholarship to a private school where her dyslexic daughter will get special attention.

Whatever the movie's failure means, teachers are still winning against their real enemies: the students