A politically charged documentary called 2016: Obama’s America turned heads last weekend when it grossed a whopping $1.24 million out of just 169 theaters.
The $2.5 million independent film, which is being distributed by Utah-based Rocky Mountain Pictures, premiered in Houston six weeks ago and has recently enjoyed some extremely uncharacteristic box office behavior.
You see, normally, when a film’s theater count increases, the amount of money it’s earning in each theater decreases. This is the standard performance pattern for a limited release and follows common supply/demand logic.
Here’s how things have gone for 2016: Obama’s America, though: Three weekends ago, 2016 earned $34,133 out of 10 theaters, which gave it a per theater average of $3,413 — not all that remarkable for a limited release. When it expanded into 61 theaters the next weekend, its per theater average did a funny thing: it jumped up to $5,202. Last weekend, the film experienced an even bigger expansion, into 169 theaters, and again, its per theater average substantially leapt up to $7,365.
Let’s be clear: this almost never happens.
Now, Rocky Mountain Pictures is expanding the anti-Obama documentary into 1,090 theaters this weekend (it will play in 49 out of 50 states — everything but Vermont), and whether or not it continues to raise its venue average, it’s set to make a huge splash at the box office — perhaps about $6 million, which would easily launch it into the Top 10. It could be much bigger than that, too — stay tuned for my full box office predictions later today.
Ticketing service Fandango reports that as of 3:00 p.m. today, Obama’s America accounts for 35 percent of all daily ticket sales, over three times as many as the next best-selling film, The Expendables 2, which accounts for 10 percent of sales.
The political documentary’s massive groundswell in interest is great news for Rocky Mountain Pictures, whose biggest hit to date is the $12 million-earning Christian missionary film End of the Spear. 2016 should pass that film’s total easily in the next few weeks.
While the film, which has earned $2.4 million so far, can’t yet compare to Michael Moore’s anti-George Bush polemic Fahrenheit 911, which opened to $23.9 million during 2004 (also an election year) and earned a gigantic $119.2 million total, it’s important to remember that film was distributed by Lionsgate and had a major promotional campaign behind it. 2016 has had to rely on talk-radio promotions and a small rollout in red states (it premiered in Houston before expanding into Nashville, Anchorage, then South Carolina, Louisiana, and Montana) to succeed.
Still, lucrative documentaries like Fahrenheit 911 and even 2016 are the exception, rather than the rule. Most docs don’t earn much money at all. Bully, which garnered all the publicity that a documentary could ever hope for earlier this year, only fought its way to $3.5 million domestically. The Queen of Versailles, another recent much-buzzed-about documentary, hasn’t exactly struck it rich, grossing $1.3 million so far.
Where 2016: Obama’s America finishes is anyone’s guess, but it seems to be on the verge of breaking into the national zeitgeist. We’ll find out if it does over the next few days.
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