Won't Back Down (film)

2012 film by Daniel Barnz

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Won't Back Down
Wont Back Down Poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Directed byDaniel Barnz
Written by
  • Brin Hill
  • Daniel Barnz
Produced byMark Johnson
CinematographyRoman Osin
Edited byKristina Boden
Music byMarcelo Zarvos
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • September 28, 2012 (2012-09-28)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$19 million[2]
Box office$5.8 million[3]

Won't Back Down is a 2012 American drama film directed by Daniel Barnz and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis and Holly Hunter.


Two determined mothers, a car dealer/bartender (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a teacher (Viola Davis), look to transform their children's failing inner city school in Pittsburgh. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy and corruption from the teachers' union president (Holly Hunter) and the school's principal (Bill Nunn), they risk everything to make a difference in the education and future of their children.[4]


  • Maggie Gyllenhaal as Jamie Fitzpatrick
  • Viola Davis as Nona Alberts
  • Holly Hunter as Evelyn Riske
  • Oscar Isaac as Michael Perry
  • Rosie Perez as Brenna Harper
  • Ving Rhames as Principal Thompson
  • Lance Reddick as Charles Alberts
  • Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Olivia Lopez
  • Bill Nunn as Principal Holland
  • Emily Alyn Lind as Malia Fitzpatrick
  • Dante Brown as Cody Alberts
  • Liza Colón-Zayas as Yvonne
  • Ned Eisenberg as Arthur Gould
  • Nancy Bach as Deborah
  • Keith Flippen as Ren
  • Robert Haley as Tim
  • Sarab Kamoo as Principal Chamudes
  • Joe Coyle as Clay Bathgate
  • Jennifer Massey as Valerie Bathgate
  • Jane Mowder as Jan
  • Reavis Graham as Hank Hart
  • Anthony Marino Jr. as Tyler
  • Richard Barlow as Mr. Brandt
  • Rebecca Harris as Ms. Southwick
  • Kevin Jiggetts as Mr. Mannis
  • Patricia Cray as Ms. Schwartz
  • Juan Veza as Mr. Parrish
  • Franklin Djeda Smith as Mr. King



The cast of the movie premiere in New York.

The film is loosely based on the events surrounding the use of the parent trigger law in Sunland-Tujunga, Los Angeles, California in 2010, where several groups of parents attempted to take over several failing public schools. The Parent Trigger law, which was passed in California and other states in 2010, allowed parents to enforce administrative overhaul and overrule administrators in under-performing public schools if petitioned. If successful, petitions allow parents to direct changes such as dismissal of staff and potential conversion of a school to a charter school.[5][6]


Walden Media, a film studio which released a 2010 documentary film Waiting for "Superman" with Paramount Pictures and Participant Media about the American educational system,[7] produced the film, with 20th Century Fox releasing it on September 28, 2012.[8] American actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis were among the first to be cast,[9] with Academy award-winning actress Holly Hunter being cast later on.[6] The film marked Hunter's first film appearance in seven years since The Incredibles and The Big White. The film's trailer was released on May 17, 2012.[10] The film's budget was $25 million, not counting the undisclosed amount for marketing the film.

Promotional campaign

Private foundations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce contributed more than $2 million for a publicity campaign for the film. Television ads, bookmarks, websites and private screenings a six-month cross-country tour promoted the film. Promoters scheduled private screenings in states from New York to Georgia and Utah, to promote the movie and its parent trigger message.[11] Michelle Rhee presented the film at separate events near both the Republican and Democratic Party 2012 national conventions several weeks before its theatrical release.[12]


Box office

The film grossed just $5.3 million at the box office domestically, and, according to Box Office Mojo, had the worst opening-weekend performance of any film to open in more than 2,500 theatres - collecting just $1,035 per screen, until the record was broken by Victor Frankenstein in 2015.[13]

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 35% based on 106 reviews with an average rating of 5.10/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Despite the best efforts of its talented leads, Won't Back Down fails to lend sufficient dramatic heft or sophistication to the hot-button issue of education reform."[14] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 42% based on reviews from 34 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[15] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "A−" on scale of A to F.[16]

Variety called the film a "heavy-handed inspirational drama" that "grossly oversimplifies the issue at hand." The site continued, "Barnz's disingenuous pot-stirrer plays to audiences' emotions rather than their intelligence, offering meaty roles for Maggie Gyllenhaal as a determined single mom, and Viola Davis as the good egg among a rotten batch of teachers, while reducing everyone else to cardboard characterizations. Absent high-profile champions, femme-centric pic could suffer from low attendance."[17] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: "Both the lottery scene and the anti-union material seem to be fictionalized versions of material in the powerful documentary Waiting for Superman which covered similar material with infinitely greater depth."[18] Michael Medved liked the film, giving it three and a half stars (out of four) and calling it "... one of the better films of 2012."[19]


Some critics have contended that the film is an ideological vehicle of conservative activist Philip Anschutz and that the film is slanted to promote the parent trigger movement.[20][21] Some critics have contended that the movie shows a watered-down version of what parents are really up against when trying to implement the Parent Trigger law.[22]


Viola Davis won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for her role as Nona Alberts;[23] and she was nominated for a Black Reel Award for Best Actress for her role.

See also

Home media

Won't Back Down was released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 15, 2013.


  1. ^ Kenneth Turan (September 27, 2012). "Movie review: 'Won't Back Down' doesn't let up on unions". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on September 28, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  2. ^ Kaufman, Amy (September 27, 2012). "Animated 'Hotel Transylvania' to scare off 'Looper'". Los Angeles Times.
  3. ^ "Won't Back Down (2012) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  4. ^ "Won't Back Down (2012) - Production Details". Yahoo! Movies. Yahoo! Inc. 17 May 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  5. ^ "Desert Trails Elementary Parents Seek Control Of Failing Adelanto, California School In High-Stakes U.S. Education Reform". The Huffington Post. Reuters. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  6. ^ a b Rotherham, Andrew (8 March 2012). "Can Parents Take Over Schools?". TIME. Time Inc. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  7. ^ Tourtellotte, Bob (23 Jan 2010). "Bill Gates goes to Sundance, offers an education". Reuters. Park City, Utah: Thomson Reuters. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  8. ^ Cieply, Michael (20 February 2012). "In Reality and Film, a Battle for Schools". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  9. ^ Fleming, Mike (10 May 2011). "Maggie Gyllenhaal And Viola Davis Lead Walden's 'Still I Rise'". Deadline Hollywood. PMC. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  10. ^ Hughes, Sarah Anne (17 May 2012). "Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal team up in 'Won't Back Down' trailer". The Washington Post. Washington D.C. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  11. ^ Stephanie Simon (September 28, 2012). "'Parent power' film stirs hopes of education reform activists". Chicago Tribune.
  12. ^ Ward, Jon (2012-09-02). "Dems Divided By Movie Slamming Key Supporters". HuffPost. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  13. ^ WORST WIDE OPENINGS - Saturated 2,500+ theatres, Box Office Mojo
  14. ^ "Won't Back Down (2012)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 10, 2020.
  15. ^ "Won't Back Down". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-10-10.
  16. ^ "Cinemascore". Archived from the original on 2018-12-20.
  17. ^ Debruge, Peter (September 26, 2012). "Won't Back Down". Variety. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (2012). "Won't Back Down movie review & film summary (2012)". Chicago Sun-Times.
  19. ^ [1][dead link]
  20. ^ "What Parents Need to Know: FAQ "Won't Back Down" and Parent Trigger" Parents Across America, August 13, 2012
  21. ^ Molnar, Michele. "'Parent Trigger' Gets Hollywood Treatment". Education Week - K-12 Parents and the Public. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  22. ^ Rotherham, Andrew J. "'Won't Back Down': Why This Education Movie Matters". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2019-08-16.
  23. ^ "NAACP Image Awards: Winners Announced". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 15 October 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

External links

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