Gosnell Film Scares Up Box-Office Success Despite Some Theaters Pulling It

Even mainstream critics call the true crime drama Gosnell “terrifying” in its realism. Yet some theaters dropped the movie despite its popularity with audiences.

By Josh Shepherd Published on October 22, 2018

During its second weekend, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer took the 14th spot at the box office. It brings the independent film’s total take to $2.4 million.

Gosnell also earned enough positive press reviews to get a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has a 99% positive audience rating. Yet an estimated 150 screens dropped Gosnell last weekend, bringing theater count down to around 500. Filmmakers claim viewpoint discrimination may have played a role.

“We were in the top ten within [certain] L.A. and New York theaters, which had between 16 and 30 screens,” says producer John Sullivan in a statement to The Stream. “We can see from individual theater box office that we were dropped.”

This move follows the production’s earlier trials. Gosnell was banned from a crowdfunding site, blocked from release last year by a federal judge, and barred from advertising on Facebook.

True Story, Lasting Impression

Gosnell dramatizes the story of a criminal abortion provider in urban Philadelphia. Kermit Gosnell was caught violating state health codes in a derelict multi-level clinic.

Dean Cain

Dean Cain as James Woods

In 2013, a jury convicted Gosnell of three murders and more than 200 counts of violating state abortion laws. He is currently serving three life consecutive sentences in a Pennsylvania prison.

The true crime drama stars Dean Cain (“Superman” from TV’s Lois and Clark), Sarah Jane Morris (from The Night Shift) and Michael Beach (Soul Food). It aso features director Nick Searcy (The Shape of Water) as Gosnell’s attorney and conservative pundit Alfonzo Rachel.

Cain related in a recent interview what he is hearing from friends who’ve watched the film.

“They say it was dead silent through the credits,” recounts Cain. “Then it sparked conversation, with people talking about it for days afterward. It sticks with them. It’s the kind of film that makes you think twice.”

Critics Call Abortion Doctor “Terrifying”

Earl Billings, known for past roles in Antwone Fisher and Crimson Tide, inhabits the film’s standout title character. He plays the abortion provider with a sinister aloofness noted by many critics.

Kermit Gosnell

Earl Billings as Kermit Gosnell

“Billings anchors the production with his disconcertingly amenable, benign manner,” wrote Catholic film critic Steven Greydanus. The reviewer assumed Gosnell dramatized some moments. These include a bizarre scene of the doctor blithely playing piano during a criminal bust — and likewise his exotic pet turtles.

“To my surprise, though, an end-credits gallery [includes] real-life photos and video,” he stated. “Actual footage documents the real Gosnell doing exactly what the film depicts.”

Even negative reviews admit being surprised. “The events in Searcy’s film demand to be taken seriously,” wrote one critic. “It’s hard to calculate the atrocities Gosnell committed, and the tale of his apprehension and trial is undeniably fascinating.”

“Billings in particular gives a terrifying performance,” he notes.

Third Weekend Seeking to Draw Horror Crowd

Producer John Sullivan is optimistic about how Gosnell will play in its third weekend. “I’m hopeful there will be curiosity of this true story that attracts an audience from the typical Halloween horror crowd,” said Sullivan.

“Kermit Gosnell is the biggest serial killer in history, as he operated under government protection for nearly two decades,” he continued. “This film would expose the horrors of what he did to a group that may not typically pay attention.”

This film is one of several biopics related to abortion releasing over the next year. Unplanned will portray how Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson abruptly quit the abortion industry. An independent film on the pivotal Roe v. Wade case recently wrapped. And Sandra Bullock will reportedly portray pro-choice Texas legislator Wendy Davis in Let Her Speak.

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Audiences have shown accuracy to real-life events matters. Detective James Woods, portrayed by Dean Cain, granted local press an interview for the film. “A lot of scenes are pretty right on,” said Woods. “It’s dramatized but the facts are clear from start to finish, explaining how this happened.”

When asked about a scene showing babies’ feet preserved in jars, he affirmed its accuracy. “Now that I know that he was a serial killer, I believe that they were his trophies,” continued Woods. “It will stick with me the rest of my life. I’ve seen a lot of crazy things being in law enforcement for 34 years but nothing like this before.”

“This story needed to be told so nothing like this happens again.”


Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content including disturbing images and descriptions, Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer is currently playing in theaters nationwide.

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