'Fauci' earnings mystery: No info on box office take for gushing documentary about COVID czar

Two weeks after theatrical release of friendly portrait of Anthony Fauci, major film sites have no data on receipts, and distributors National Geographic and Magnolia Pictures  are mum.

Published: September 23, 2021 4:37pm

Updated: October 16, 2021 5:14pm

Documentaries often earn a fraction of what their fictional counterparts generate, at least those without the names "Moore" or "D'Souza" attached.

"Fauci," a film detailing the scientific life of the nation's preeminent infectious disease expert, appeared to be an exception.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has his detractors, particularly on the political right, but he's still the biggest name in medical science thanks to his leadership on the COVID-19 pandemic and near-constant media presence.

The timing of the film's Sept. 10 limited release, in cities including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, D.C. and New Orleans, seemed fortuitous given the aggressive Delta variant.

Except we're still waiting on the box office tally.

No major film site — think BoxOfficeMojo.com, IMDB.com, RottenTomatoes.com or Boxoffice Pro — has the film's earnings to date. JustTheNews.com reached out to representatives at both National Geographic and Magnolia Pictures, the studios copresenting the film, for any figures from its two-plus weeks in limited release. Neither studio responded.

The film, which covers Dr. Fauci's work dealing with HIV/AIDS, SARS, Ebola and now COVID-19, features Fauci family members and fans, including Bono of U2 fame and former national security advisor Susan Rice.

Shawn Robbins, chief analyst with Boxoffice Pro, says 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 film's release schedule had one condition tied to the ongoing pandemic: Audiences had to show proof of vaccination before seeing the documentary, something that isn't mandatory in many theaters at the moment.

Directed by Emmy winners John Hoffman and Janet Tobias, "Fauci" earned mostly positive reviews according to film critic aggregator site RottenTomatoes.com. The site's professional critic rating came in at an impressive 88% "fresh." The film lacks a single audience member review to date.

The latter isn't true at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com). "Fauci" has a withering 2.2/10 rating, although it's possible the now-controversial doctor's detractors weighed in without actually having seen the film.

Most professional critics agree "Fauci" took an overwhelmingly positive look at the doctor's body of work. The Guardian calls the film "celebratory" in its approach to the title figure.

The New York Times, in turn, described its tone as "sympathetic."

"There is only one Dr. Tony Fauci, and it's an incredible privilege to be the first to tell the story of his life and career, including his never-ending quest to cure disease and prevent outbreaks," said Hoffman and Tobias in a press statement tied to the film's release.

The studios insist Fauci lacked creative control over the film, nor was he paid for his participation.

"Fauci" gives less attention to its eponymous subject's many critics, who cite a litany of offenses, including his inconsistencies regarding mask use and a history of labeling some events as potential "super spreaders" (football games) but not others (Black Lives Matter protests, illegal immigrants streaming into the southern border).

Perhaps recent headlines regarding Fauci dampened enthusiasm for the film. 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."

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