Anti-Teachers' Union Film Is Biggest Flop in Decades

Sometimes making propaganda doesn't pay. "It will make you bite your tongue in despair," says one critic.

Chicago public school teachers attend a press conference organised by The Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign outside the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel in City Hall on September 17, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The teachers have voted to end their high-prof

I really do love actresses Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhall (still pulling for an Oscar for Davis), but in this case, I'm not particularly sorry to hear that "Won't Back Down"--widely derided as a piece of blatant anti-union propaganda pushed into being by corporate reformers--did not sit well with critics or audiences.

In fact the film, which chronicles parents taking a school over from the teachers union, has now vaulted into history (or at least until it gets surpassed) as the worst opening weekend of all time for its distribution size.

Maybe the poor opening was because no one, parents least of all, wanted to see a film that simplified a complex issue like their kids' education.

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Or maybe it because the film only has a 34% fresh rating at Rottentomatoes, with many critics saying they'd be a bit more willing to excuse the anti- union talking points if they were embedded in an actually decent film. Quoth the critic from the LA Times: "This poor film is so shamelessly manipulative and hopelessly bogus it will make you bite your tongue in regret and despair." Ouch.


As a parent and education blogger in NYC noted this week, no amount of corporate effort and cash could save this film from itself: 

All the advance screenings sponsored by astroturf corp reform groups and the film's distributor, Rupert Murdoch, the big push by CBS and Walmart, the promotion by NBC's Education Nation, the multi-million dollar advertising campaign financed by right-wing producer Philip Anschutz, and Students First sending in their staffers to write glowing reviews didn't bring people into the theaters. 

Read Liza Featherstone's fabulous takedown of the film from Dissent magazine here at AlterNet.

Sarah Seltzer is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published at the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor, Jezebel and the Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahmseltzer and find her work at