Over the 4th of July weekend, 2023 on Netflix, White House Down became the most-watched film on the service. It’s incredibly easy to see why. Its patriotic nature (given that it involves a heroic U.S. president played by Jamie Foxx) made it fitting for the holiday, while its zippy tone and PG-13 rating also made it appropriate viewing for larger families who needed something to do once all the barbeque had been gobbled up. Plus, older films that weren’t initially box office hits became Netflix sensations all the time. Projects that people weren’t interested in paying cash to see in theaters in 2013 often become must-see films for folks getting lost browsing Netflix.
It’s a welcome end to the saga of White House Down, a movie that initially seemed doomed to forever live in the shadow of the other 2013 White House action film, Olympus Has Fallen. After all, that feature made way more at the box office and spawned a pair of sequels that kept the franchise in the public consciousness. Even with the star power of Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx, White House Down initially seemed doomed to become an also-ran in the 2013 movie scene. But as all that Netflix viewership over the 4th of July weekend reminded us all, sometimes, it just takes a while for people to appreciate quality popcorn entertainment.
Just How Badly Did ‘White House Down’ Initially Do?
White House Down was a full-stop box office bomb when it first came out in June 2013. Expectations were sky high for this feature not only because it was a new Roland Emmerich blockbuster opening over the 4th of July, but because its two leading men were coming off a glorious 2012. Tatum had scored multiple massive hits the preceding year while 2012 had ended with Foxx headlining one of the most lucrative films in his lengthy career, Django Unchained. Putting them together hot-off films like Magic Mike in the kind of action movie that tends to make bank without breaking a sweat over the 4th of July weekend seemed to be a foolproof way of making money.
Instead, White House Down only made $203 million worldwide (including just $73.1 million domestically) on a $150 million budget. Despite being a massive PG-13 tentpole designed to appeal to all audiences, White House Down made way less money domestically than Tatum’s microbudget 2012 drama Magic Mike. It was a massive misstep for all involved, including Emmerich, who’d previously had a magic touch with modern blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012. Much of the blame, of course, had to go to Olympus Has Fallen for opening three months before White House Down and taking some of the uniqueness off this blockbuster.
Still, there were other major problems plaguing this blockbuster beyond just a competing Gerard Butler star vehicle. For one thing, White House Down was opening in a crowded summer blockbuster landscape. Over the two weeks before its release, Man of Steel and World War Z both debuted to massive numbers. Audiences were perfectly satisfied with all the popcorn entertainment already out in the marketplace. Meanwhile, there was a tonal dissonance in the various pieces of White House Down’s marketing campaign. The trailers and commercials were zippy and light, emphasizing moments like Foxx’s president telling an adversary to “get your hands off my Jordans!” By contrast, posters for the film suggested a much darker tale, the kind of somber story people don’t tend to like seeing Tatum inhabit. With confused promotional materials compounding the other problems White House Down had to face in its release, it’s no wonder the film turned into one of 2013’s most notable box office duds.
When White House Down premiered, it entered a summer blockbuster scene dominated by gritty films. World War Z was all about the world collapsing as zombies ran amuck. Man of Steel featured Superman murdering dudes. The Lone Ranger dedicated an entire scene to someone eating another man’s heart. Even Star Trek Into Darkness, a movie featuring the hopeful crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, was going into more somber territory. Not all of these projects were hits, but most of them were. Moviegoing tastes were running more toward Christopher Nolan than Jerry Bruckheimer-style blockbusters of the 1990s.
Why Is ‘White House Down’ Topping Today’s Netflix Charts?
In the modern world, though, the zippier tone of White House Down is much more in line with current blockbuster standards. There is grave danger and peril in White House Down, but it’s all punctuated with witty dialogue and comical scenarios like Foxx needing to put on his glasses before he shoots an adversary. Meanwhile, Tatum and Foxx have endured in the public eye as very well-liked movie stars who can still command a crowd and deliver notable performances. In other words, their presence in White House Down still means something to modern audiences and makes the project extra attractive to people.
Plus, White House Down’s plot has, unfortunately, become only more and more timely as the years go by. While Olympus Has Fallen hinged its premise on North Korean terrorists taking over the White House, White House Down was all about domestic terrorists invading the White House and seeking revenge against the president. In the wake of the horrors of the January 6th insurrection, the idea of American insurrectionists believing they’re the “real victims” and wanting to take down the U.S. capital is no longer a far-fetched premise belonging exclusively to a Roland Emmerich movie. Audiences often use art and escapist entertainment to make reality seem a bit more bearable. In this case, White House Down provides an inadvertently relevant blockbuster that also delivers fantasy catharsis in watching a John McClane-wannabe take down characters equivalent to real-world insurrectionists.
Above all else, though, it helps that White House Down is just a blast of a movie that’s endured for good reason. Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster filmography wildly varies in overall quality, but he hit a home run here doing a Die Hard pastiche that leans into ludicrousness (flag-twirling ends up saving America in White House Down) and an entertaining dynamic between Tatum and Foxx. Plus, the supporting cast is jam-packed with memorable performances from Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jason Clarke. There’s no magical equation that turned White House Down into a good piece of blockbuster cinema, it always qualified as such. It’s just that certain shifts in the world since its initial release, both in terms of mundane pop culture zeitgeist adjustments and tragic real-world parallels, have made White House Down extra enticing to moviegoers across the globe.