On a slow movie weekend with a number of low-profile debuts it was odd to see some breathless reports of the box office performances early on Friday. The specialty distributer Rocky Mountain Pictures expanded their political documentary, 2016 Obama’s America, previously in limited release, and early news had the film initially as the #1 film on Friday.
The film, co-directed by Dinesh D’Souza and based upon his 2010 bestselling book, “The Roots of Obama’s Rage”, turned some heads as the day played out but as calm came over other journalists the accurate assessment was less hysterical. Then voices from the other side of the spectrum offered differing views and soon enough many were unsure what had transpired, let alone as to why. It has taken the full weekend and the delivery of stable numbers to prove that the truth – as is often the case – landed somewhere between the extremist interpretations. One thing remained constant however; the movie performed admirably better than anyone had predicted.
It was Thursday when initial positive reports on the film came out. The conservative entertainment site Big Hollywood began with their report that the movie led all others in presale tickets on Fandango. Then early Friday the news was announced that 2016 was the #1 film in box office, with The Drudge Report trumpeting the afternoon figures announced at Deadline Hollywood. This was tempered by the news the film was likely benefitting from a front loaded audience, with buses of groups arriving for screenings on Friday. By that evening conventional fans came out and the movie dropped down to #4 for the day.
As the weekend played out the doc dipped further down the chart.
By way of explanation Roger Ebert addressed this positive performance on his Twitter account. The famed film writer – occupying a space on the opposite end of the political aisle as the makers of the film – editorialized the film’s performance:
This might have gone towards explaining the movie making the impact it did on the top 10, except for a detail Mr. Ebert chose to overlook. Quite the opposite, the weekend prior to Memorial Day is traditionally very slow at the box office; nothing shocking, surprising, or even doubtful about it. Since the year 2000 forty two films have gone into wide release on this particular week; of those only fourteen have managed to gross over $10 million. With summer blockbusters wrapping up and the start of school across much of the country the movie business basically writes-off this date.
2016 Obama’s America has even been difficult for many to categorize. Some trumpet the film for placing high on the list of political documentaries, others say this is only impressive because of the need discount nature documentaries, and others still seem to forget to include concert docs in the mix. So how can we measure this title, one that has generated polarized reactions and confused critics and supporters alike? Basically it involves a simple act of dismissing politics and analyzing numbers in sober fashion.
At the close of the weekend 2016 Obama’s America finished in the #8 position, grossing $6.2 million. This was just behind the returns of the premiere of Premium Rush, and easily ahead of another debut, Hit & Run, which disappointed at #10. But the performance goes beyond those positions, as 2016 played in less than 1,100 venues — Rush barely beat it out while playing on over twice as many screens. The per-screen average for 2016 was $5,718, placing it higher than the #1 film, The Expendables 2 (just over $4,000 per screen and a $13.5 million weekend.) All told those are numbers rather impressive for a lightly regarded political documentary that was not on the radar of many analysts. Then as the actuals came in late on Monday it turns out the was correctly placed at the #7 after all, ahead of Premium Rush.
As for its stance among the year’s documentary releases once again this title is positioned near the middle of the various interpretations. To date it has pulled in roughly $9 million. That is actually enough to have it land in the top-20 all time among documentary releases. To date in 2012 two other docs are ahead: The concert film Katy Perry: All of Me (just over $25 million) and Disney’s springtime release, Chimpanzee ($30 million).
Regardless your political stance or impression of the release you may understand the impressive returns with a bit of perspective, provided by another documentary. Earlier this year we were treated to numerous reports surrounding the socially conscious release <Bully. With all of the news, and the ginned up controversy from Harvey Weinstein, that doc drew $3.5 million. No matter the manner of the description of this weekend you have to applaud this film’s ability to nearly double the gross in one weekend of that ballyhooed title’s entire run.