It was definitely a conspicuous absence that you can’t help but notice, just because the moment is so iconic, but it’s pretty clear within the first 10 minutes that it’s just not that kind of movie. It’s not “patriotic” at all, it doesn’t lionize him at all, and it is probably a better and more interesting movie for it. The movie avoids the usual beats of the chest-beating biopic and skims over a lot to tell the story it wants to tell, which is a story about grief—about a couple that lost a child to cancer, and how they persevere through that and how it pushes them to accomplish great things.
So those expecting the usual biopic with the flag-planting and applause will no doubt be a bit disappointed. As to why the movie underperformed, I think a large part of it is because they called it “First Man” and not “Neil Armstrong.”
Also, last year at this time we were having the exact same conversations about Blade Runner 2049…maybe Ryan Gosling just isn’t that big of a star or that appealing a leading man?