Democrats vs. Republicans: Stars they Won’t Pay to See; Movies They Hate and Love (Poll)
Probably nothing in the poll, though, is more sobering for Hollywood than the large numbers of moviegoers who hold the political views of actors against them. For Republicans, 52 percent say they have avoided a movie because of the political views of its star. Among Democrats, it's 36 percent.
Many Democrats, for example, don't want to see movies that star Charlton Heston because he was president of the National Rifle Association. On the flip side, Sean Penn repels about 40 percent of Republicans. In March 2009, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly made news worldwide when he told THR that Penn is the only actor he refuses to buy a ticket to see because he "gives aid and comfort" to dictators. O'Reilly's impassioned audience is 3 million a night -- his feelings, one might surmise, would reverberate. (Penn's biggest domestic box-office movie is 2003's Mystic River, with $90.1 million; his 2010 film Fair Game, about Valerie Plame, grossed $9.5 million.)
"What causes a liberal actor to lose conservative fans has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with class," says John Nolte, editor-in-chief of the conservative entertainment site Big Hollywood. "An actor who simply goes on about the business of acting and supporting left-wing causes usually generates nothing more than indifference from right-of-center fans and can generate respect because of how they handle themselves, especially when compared to their obnoxious counterparts."
Until recently, Freeman wasn't known for political activism. There are, however, other celebrities who are so partisan that their off-screen politics influence box-office potential, as is the case with Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey and Jane Fonda. Those three, along with Penn, are identified by the poll as celebrities whose movies large numbers of Republicans avoid.
While less likely to take stars' politics into consideration when buying tickets, there are a few actors Democrats also shy from, such as Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even Michael Moore is shunned by 21 percent of moviegoing Democrats -- balanced out by the 25 percent who say they seek out his movies. "Many Democrats and liberals see Michael Moore in the same way that many Republicans and conservatives see Pat Robertson: as an embarrassing blowhard who makes their own side look bad," says John Pitney Jr., a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College. Perhaps that's one reason Moore broke records with his $119 million domestic haul from Fahrenheit 9/11 while follow-ups Sicko and Capitalism: A Love Story took in $25 million and $14 million, respectively.
There are a few stars so admired by one party for their activism that they will seek out their films -- though that love might not translate to the box office because there are usually enough on the other side who say they'll avoid those same actors. Conservative Jon Voight is in that category, as are liberals Damon and George Clooney, who opens the politically charged The Ides of March on Oct. 7. Some are simply universally admired for their activism, like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Bob Hope.
Meanwhile, back to Dolphin Tale. Alcon co-president Andrew Kosove won't entertain the notion that Freeman hurt box-office performance "by even one dollar!" In a written statement, he says he doesn't share Freeman's view and adds: "As a person who has some libertarian viewpoints myself, I STRONGLY believe Morgan's right to express whatever beliefs he has on any topic. We are a free country. Thank God!"
Thank God is right.