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Moviegoers Show Will Smith's Emancipation The Back Of Their Hands

Will Smith's "Emancipation" is off to a rocky debut at the box office. After his controversial start to 2022, many were left wondering what the "Fresh Prince" actor's career would look like for the next few years. All eyes turned to the actor's historical action drama "Emancipation," which Apple TV+ paid some $120 million to produce (via Deadline). Meant to serve as an Oscar-contender, the Antoine Fuqua-directed film was left in a precarious position following Smith's ban from the Academy Awards for the next decade.

Reports emerged in the summer that Apple TV+ would push the slave drama back, with Fuqua even telling The Los Angeles Times that he worried the film would "never be seen." "I was worried, of course, as a filmmaker, because so many people worked on this film and gave their heart and soul," the "Training Day" director said. "And I feel like the subject matter is bigger than that [Oscar] event." The brass at Apple TV+ ultimately decided to push on, giving the flick an early December release.

Prior to the film's theatrical release, Smith acknowledged some audience members wouldn't want to see "Emancipation" following his Oscar controversy. Though the outrage behind Smith's actions have largely fizzled, outlets like The Wall Street Journal have pointed out that the "Emancipation" press tour functioned more like an "apology tour." Did Smith's apology work?  According to box office receipts, it looks like audience members may not be ready to show up Smith's latest. 

Emancipation had a poor opening weekend

The weekend of December 2 to 4, 2022 was a relatively calm one at the box office. "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" continued to dominate, claiming the Number 1 spot for a fourth time in a row. Coming in at second place was David Harbour's "Violent Night," which grossed a healthy $13 million for its debut weekend, per The Hollywood Reporter. Will Smith's "Emancipation," which kicked off its limited theatrical run this weekend, reportedly earned just $3,000 to $4,000 per location. The outlet says that the latest film from "The Equalizer" director opened in eight to 10 theaters.

Cate Blanchett's "Tár," another Oscar-hopeful, brought in $158,620 during its opening weekend, debuting in just four theaters, with an average of nearly $40,00 per location (via Box Office Mojo). "The Banshees of Inisherin" had a similar fate, bringing in $46,113 per location when it debuted in four cinemas in mid-October, per Box Office Mojo.

Why did "Emancipation," which boasts an Oscar-winning lead star and crowd-pleasing director fail to fare well at the box office? "Emancipation" is far from a critical darling, with its Rotten Tomatoes score sitting at a 49% as of this writing. But Apple TV+ and Smith shouldn't be too worried. The streamer is more focused on bringing in subscribers than reigning at the box office. The film's small theatrical push is nothing more than a formality to become eligible for major awards. It remains to be seen how Smith's "Emancipation" fares when the film debuts on Apple TV+. 

"Emancipation" hits Apple TV+ on December 9.