Now comes the first documentary for supporters of President Donald Trump — controversial conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza’s Death of a Nation, which opens Friday in 1,002 theaters. It is the first of his four films to launch nationwide, as well as the first political doc in a decade to bow in more than 1,000 locations rather than first debut in select cinemas so as to build word of mouth without having to spend a fortune on marketing. Outside of major studio nature films, nearly all documentaries open in select cinemas.
Death of a Nation, a screed against Democrats, has powerful allies that can spread the word on social media. On Tuesday, Donald Trump Jr. told his 2.93 million Twitter followers that he and D’Souza — whom President Trump recently pardoned for violating campaign finance laws — are co-hosting the film’s Washington premiere on Wednesday night. (So far, there’s no word if the president himself will show up at the event.)
“Excited to cohost the DC red carpet premiere of ?@DineshDSouza? new movie Death of a Nation tomorrow. It’s going to fire up Republicans for the midterms exploring how fascism so closely links to the platform of the progressive left today. WATCH IT!,” Trump Jr. tweeted in addition to linking a trailer of the film.
Quality Flix is distributing Death of a Nation, which D’Souza directed with Bruce Schooley. Thus far, critics have ravaged the doc, which currently boasts a rare zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. If it stays at zero, it would mark a career low for D’Souza.
Death of a Nation is the first D’Souza doc to open during the Trump presidency. Over the July 15-17 weekend in 2016, Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party debuted in three theaters in Texas and Phoenix on the eve of the Republican National Convention.
Hillary’s America expanded into a total of 1,217 theaters the following weekend, earning $4 million on its way to grossing $13.1 million by the end of its run. While among the top 10 showings of all time for a political doc, it didn’t come close to matching D’Souza’s top-grossing 2012 film, 2016 Obama’s America ($33.4 million). It did, however, perform on par with D’Souza’s America, which grossed $14.4 million in 2014.
D’Souza and his liberal filmmaking nemesis, Michael Moore, occupy seven of the top 10 spots on the list of the biggest-grossing political docs of all time at the U.S. box office, not adjusted for inflation. Moore boasts four; D’Souza three.
Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is No. 1 ($119.4 million), followed by D’Souza’s Obama’s America at No. 2.
While more of a biopic, this summer’s RBG is also classified as a political doc. RBG ranks No. 8 ($13.1 million), just ahead of Hillary’s America.
Holding at No. 10 is Ben Stein’s 2008 Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which was the last political doc to open in more than 1,000 locations. The film, rolling out in 1,052 cinemas, grossed $3 million on its opening weekend before topping out at $7.7 million.
The risks of opening nationwide include burning out more quickly. Stein’s doc, for example, played in theaters for six weekends, compared to 13 weeks for Obama’s America after a platform launch; Moore’s Sicko (17 weeks); Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (23 weeks); and Hillary’s America (13 weeks).
In 2004, Fahrenheit 9/11 opened to a stellar $23.9 million from 868 theaters for Lionsgate and Moore.