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An anti-Obama documentary featuring an interview with the president’s half brother opened in a single theater in Texas during the weekend and, despite alleged complaints from some consumers who were upset with the film’s content, grossed an estimated $31,750, a strong showing for any independent release.
The film, 2016: Obama’s America, based on conservative author Dinesh D’Souza’s book The Roots of Obama’s Rage, had a free promotional screening at Edwards Houston Marq’E Stadium 23 & Imax on Thursday. Management had planned to show it in one of its medium-sized auditoriums but bumped it to one the multiplex’s largest rooms and turned away 200 people.
Sources say some moviegoers sat in the aisles Thursday and waited as much as 90 minutes to meet D’Souza and Gerald Molen, one of the Oscar-winning producers of Schindler’s List, who was a co-producer of 2016 along with Doug Sain. For some of its regular showings during the weekend, the theater offered 2016 on multiple screens, including three sold-out auditoriums for the 7 p.m. Friday showing.
If the weekend estimate from the movie’s distributor, Rocky Mountain Pictures, holds when final numbers are reported Monday, the film will have bested the per-theater number posted by An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore documentary about global warming, which opened to $123,549 in four theaters in 2006 for a per-theater average of $30,887.
That film, which had the benefit of a mainstream distributor in Paramount Vantage and, eventually, two Oscar wins, went on to earn $24 million domestically. The box-office record for politically charged documentaries is held by Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which grossed $119 million domestically in 2004. It opened on a Wednesday, in just two theaters, taking in $83,922 on its first day, for a one-day, per-theater average of $41,961. Still, for any documentary to pass the $25,000-per-theater mark on its opening weekend represents an unusually strong showing, according to box-office observers.
The management at the Regal Entertainment-owned theater did receive some complaints over its decision to present 2016. “The theater manager said they received a lot of phone calls from people arguing they shouldn’t show the movie,” Sain said. “His response was, ‘We don’t make movies, we just show them.’ “
According to Sain, the manager compared the reaction to 2016 to that of Fahrenheit 9/11 but said it was not as dramatic as some complaints over The Passion of the Christ that same year. The manager told Sain that during the controversial Mel Gibson film people went into the theater to try to disrupt the film and that it was necessary to have security remove them.
“So they weren’t flying by the seat of their pants with 2016,” Sain said. “They know how to respond to controversy.”
Regal spokesman Russ Nunley said some people “were around the box office wearing pro-Obama tees to express their view.” But he said the protest was “very low key and not confrontational.” He also said theater managers received “many positive comments thanking them for playing the film.”
At the Houston theater during the weekend, only The Amazing Spider-Man and Ice Age: Continental Drift grossed more than 2016, according to Sain.
“We’re getting tremendous media coverage and box-office results — more than, frankly, we ever hoped for,” Sain said. “We thought we’d be really lucky with $15,000 for the entire week, but we doubled that in just this weekend.”
2016 had been scheduled to expand to 120 theaters on July 27, but Sain said he’s confident that Rocky Mountain Pictures can bump it to about 400 theaters given the initial popularity of the film.
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