Filming began on April 27, 2015 in Malta and Morocco. Known colloquially as "the Benghazi movie", the film was released on January 15, 2016, by Paramount Pictures. Upon release, 13 Hours received generally mixed reviews from critics and audiences, however the film also gained praise for its action sequences, stunts, acting, direction and effects. The film grossed just $69 million worldwide against a budget of $50 million, becoming Bay's lowest-grossing film to date.
The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Mixing at 89th Academy Awards.
In 2012, Benghazi, Libya is named one of the most dangerous places in the world, and countries have pulled their diplomatic offices out of the country in fear of an attack by militants. The United States, however, still has a diplomatic compound (not an official consulate) open in the city. Less than a mile away is a CIA outpost called "The Annex", which is protected by a team of private military contractors from Global Response Staff (GRS). New to the detail is Jack Silva, who arrives in Benghazi and is picked up by Tyrone "Rone" Woods, commander of the GRS team and a personal friend of Silva. Arriving at the Annex, Silva is introduced to the rest of the GRS team and the CIA Chief of Station, who constantly gives the team strict reminders to never engage the citizens.
The U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens arrives in Benghazi to maintain diplomatic connections amidst the political and social chaos. Despite warnings, Stevens decides to stay at the Special Mission with limited protection from a pair of Diplomatic Security (DS) agents, Scott Wickland and Dave Ubben, and guards hired from the local February 17th Martyrs Brigade militia, nicknamed "17-Feb". On the morning of the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Stevens notices suspicious men taking pictures of the compound and notifies his security detail. Back at the Annex, Silva finds out that his wife is pregnant.
That night, a group of militants from Ansar al-Sharia assault the compound. The 17-Feb guards quickly surrender their posts, allowing the attackers easy access to the Special Mission compound. Wickland takes Stevens and Smith, an IT specialist, into the safe room. Unable to breach the safe room, the attackers set the building on fire hoping to burn the men out. Wickland is able to escape but loses both Stevens and Smith. At the Annex, the GRS team desperately wants to go to the compound to help, but the Chief refuses, fearing that the team's departure would expose the Annex. However, the team dispatches to the compound and meets up with the DS agents. Silva and Woods go into the building to try to find Stevens and Smith, but are only able to find Smith's body. The DS team from the compound retreats to the Annex; but after Wickland goes in the wrong direction, they are followed back to the Annex. Later, the GRS team also retreats to the Annex.
Knowing an attack by the militants is imminent, the CIA staff of the Annex makes several desperate calls for help. The only help they can get is from Glen "Bud" Doherty, a GRS officer in Tripoli, who forms a team including two Delta operators that fly to Benghazi after several delays. Meanwhile, the GRS team fends off the militants as they try to breach the Annex perimeter. After repelling the largest attack wave, the Annex receives word from ISR that help is en route.
The Tripoli GRS reinforcements arrive and begin preparing the CIA and DS staff to depart for the airport. The militants launch a mortar attack in which Ubben and Geist are wounded; Geist's left arm is partially severed. Woods rushes to aid Geist and is killed by another mortar round. Doherty is also killed when a mortar detonates directly in front of him.
With the GRS team compromised, and the Annex now vulnerable, the remaining GRS operators watch as a convoy of vehicles rolls toward the Annex. Fearing the worst, the operators prepare to make a final stand, until it is revealed that the convoy is an element of the Libya Shield Force militia escorting the GRS reinforcements. They also find out that Stevens was found behind the compound, but was pronounced dead at the hospital.
At the airport, the CIA staff and the wounded Geist board the plane to Tripoli while the remainder of the GRS team waits for the next plane with the bodies of Stevens, Smith, Woods and Doherty. Closing titles reveal that all of the surviving members of the Annex security team received contractor medals in a private ceremony and have since retired from the GRS team and live with their families.James Badge Dale as Tyrone S. "Rone" Woods, commander of the GRS team and former U.S. Navy SEAL.
John Krasinski as Jack Silva, newest member of the GRS team and former U.S. Navy SEAL.
Max Martini as Mark "Oz" Geist, GRS team member and former U.S. Marine.
Dominic Fumusa as John "Tig" Tiegen, GRS team member and former U.S. Marine.
Pablo Schreiber as Kris "Tanto" Paronto, GRS team member and former U.S. Army Ranger.
David Denman as Dave "Boon" Benton, GRS team member and former U.S. Marine, a scout sniper.
Matt Letscher as Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens
Toby Stephens as Glen "Bub" Doherty, GRS officer in Tripoli and good friend of Tyrone Snowden "Rone" Woods
Alexia Barlier as Sona Jillani, an undercover CIA officer in Libya.
Freddie Stroma as Brit Vayner, an undercover CIA officer in Libya
David Costabile as "Bob" aka. "The Chief", the Benghazi CIA Chief-of-Station.
Peyman Moaadi as Amahl, a local interpreter.
David Giuntoli as Scott Wickland, DSS agent.
Demetrius Grosse as Dave Ubben, DSS agent.
Christopher Dingli as Sean Smith, IT specialist.
Davide Tucci as Defence Attaché
Shane Rowe as CIA Annex Cook, who participates in the defense of the Annex.
Gábor Bodis as CIA agent, security officer
Wrenn Schmidt as Becky Silva, wife of Jack Silva
On February 10, 2014, it was announced that Paramount Pictures was in talks with 3 Arts Entertainment to acquire the film rights to the book 13 Hours, written by Mitchell Zuckoff, with Erwin Stoff to produce. Chuck Hogan was set to adapt the book, based on the true events of the Benghazi attack by militants on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, on the evening of September 11, 2012. The film would focus on six members of a security team that fought to defend the Americans stationed there. On October 29, 2014, Michael Bay was set to direct and produce the thriller.
On January 14, 2015, John Krasinski was cast in the film, to play one of the lead roles, a former US Navy SEAL. On February 3, Pablo Schreiber also signed on to star in the film, playing Kris "Tanto" Paronto, one of the six-man security team. On February 6, James Badge Dale was set to star, as the leader of the security team. Max Martini was cast as another member of the security team on February 17, 2015. David Denman signed on to star in the film on March 3, 2015, playing Boon, an elite sniper. On March 5, 2015, THR reported that Dominic Fumusa also signed on, to play John "Tig" Tiegen, one of the members of the security team, who is also a former Marine with weapons expertise. Freddie Stroma was added to the cast on March 17, 2015 to play the role of an undercover CIA officer in Libya. On May 7, 2015, Toby Stephens was set to play Glen "Bub" Doherty, another of the security team members.
Principal photography began on April 27, 2015 in Malta and Morocco. A large film set was built in March 2015 in Ta' Qali, Malta.
On June 30, 2015, Paramount announced that the new title would be 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, and set the film to be released on January 15, 2016, on the MLK Holiday weekend. The film premiered on January 12, 2016, at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, benefitting the Shadow Warriors Project, which supports private military security personnel and other groups.
Unusually for a major American film, the film was given only a limited release in Canada during its American wide opening weekend, playing in select theatres in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. The film expanded to a wide release in Canadian theatres the following weekend, January 22–24.
Paramount specifically marketed the film to conservatives, in a method similar to previous films Lone Survivor and American Sniper, both of which had beaten box office expectations. This included screening the film for key Republican Party figures in order to generate endorsement quotations.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi was released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 7, 2016. Likely due to a boost from the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, the film made $40 million in DVD and Blu-ray sales by August 2016.
13 Hours grossed $52.9 million in North America and $16.5 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $69.4 million, against a production budget of $50 million, making it Michael Bay's lowest-grossing directorial film to date.
The film was projected to earn around $20 million in its four-day Martin Luther King weekend debut. It faced competition from fellow newcomer Ride Along 2, as well as holdovers The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Other films in a similar vein that had opened on the MLK weekend in previous years, American Sniper ($107.2 million in 2015) and Lone Survivor ($37.8 million in 2014), found success, although they had faced weaker competition, and were considered less politically divisive. However, The Hollywood Reporter noted that the film could outperform expectations if it was buoyed by waves of patriotism. The film made $900,000 from 1,995 theaters during its Thursday previews and $16.2 million in its opening weekend, finishing fourth at the box office.
13 Hours has received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 50% based on 201 reviews, with an average rating of 5.5/10. The site's consensus reads, "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is a comparatively mature and restrained effort from Michael Bay, albeit one that can't quite boast the impact its fact-based story deserves." On Metacritic the film has a score of 48 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Soren Andersen, writing for The Seattle Times, gave the film 3 stars out of 4, criticizing the lack of distinctive characters but ultimately summarizing 13 Hours as "engrossing" and "a ground-level depiction of heroism in the midst of the fog of war". Richard Roeper similarly praised 13 Hours in his review for the Chicago Sun-Times. Although he lamented the script, Roeper found the film to be a "solid action thriller with well-choreographed battle sequences and strong work from the ensemble cast". Like Roeper's review, New York Daily News' Joe Dziemianowicz was less receptive towards the script, but applauded the film's focus on the real-life attack, summarizing: "War is gritty here, not glamorous... [Michael Bay] delivers a gripping, harrowing, and heartfelt film."
In a mixed review, Inkoo Kang of TheWrap praised 13 Hours for its action scenes, but panned Bay's direction as "myopic". She writes, "13 Hours is the rare Michael Bay movie that wasn't made with teenage boys in mind. But that doesn't make his latest any less callously juvenile." Lindsey Bahr of the Associated Press was critical of the film's direction and cinematography, and found the screenplay to be confusing. Similarly, The Economist described the film as "a sleek, poorly scripted and largely meaningless film".
The film caused controversy in Libya. Many of them believed it ignored the contribution of local people in their help to save the US ambassador. Libya's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Salah Belnaba, denounced the film's portrayal of the Libyan people and described it as "fanatical and ignorant." Libya's Culture and Information Minister, Omar Gawaari, also criticized the film saying: "the movie shows the US contractors who actually failed to secure the ambassador ... as heroes", adding that Michael Bay “turned America’s failure to protect its own citizens in a fragile state into a typical action movie all about American heroism”.
At the 89th Academy Awards, 13 Hours received a nomination for Best Sound Mixing. However, Greg P. Russell (one of the four nominees from the film) had his nomination rescinded when it was discovered that he had contacted voters for the award by telephone in violation of campaigning regulations.
The film's historical accuracy has been disputed. In the film's most controversial scene, the CIA chief in Benghazi (identified only as "Bob") tells the military contractors there, who seek permission to go defend the embassy, to "stand down", thus denying them permission. The real-life CIA chief stated that there was no stand-down order. His statement was echoed by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee's finding that there was "no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party". However, National Review commentator David French argues that the Senate committee cited above found plenty of evidence of the "stand down" order in the form of personal testimonies. It just chose to rule that the contrary testimony outweighed it.
Kris "Tanto" Paronto, a CIA contractor who was involved in action during the event said, "We were told to 'stand down'. Those words were used verbatim—100 percent. If the truth of it affects someone's political career? Well, I'm sorry. It happens." The CIA base chief portrayed in the film has directly contradicted Paronto's claims, saying "There never was a stand-down order... At no time did I ever second-guess that the team would depart."
Also disputed is the film's portrayal that air support was denied. A House Armed Services report found that air support was unavailable, or it would have arrived too late to make a difference. French defended the film's references to air support, writing that even if resources could not have been flown in during the time available, this would itself be "scandalous", given Libya's known instability. In July 2016, the Republican-led House Select Committee on Benghazi released its report that included numerous witnesses indicating that U.S. military help was available, but not called upon. The report indicated the Department of Defense would not provide the requested list of military assets that were available that night.
American conservative columnist Deroy Murdock wrote that the film confirmed his personal view that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were lying when they initially blamed the YouTube video Innocence of Muslims for the attacks in the weeks after they occurred. The video led to various protests among Muslims around the world, and Obama and others initially stated publicly that the Benghazi attacks emerged from such a protest. Murdock noted that 13 Hours instead portrays the attacks as having been initiated by "well-armed jihadists who know exactly what they are doing".
Some of the vehicles used in the movie are models from later years, especially the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class (model year 2013) and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W205) (model year 2015) which did not exist when the attacks happened in 2012. The video game Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is also featured in the film despite the fact that the game was released two years after the Benghazi attack.