What's going on with Al Franken: God Spoke? The numbers don't look good. As of Sunday, it had only grossed just over $64,000. But, it was only showing in 10 theaters, giving it an average of $1,144. That's pretty bad.
The worse news for Franken is that his per theater average has been plummeting: $5,266 the first weekend; $2,981 the next; then $2,197; and now that putrid $1,144 number.
The Franken documentary is going nowhere, fast, and it would do well now just to break $100K, let alone to wind up in the mediocre territory of a lefty docu such as Outfoxed, which did $461K.
What's really interesting, though, is this chart of political documentary grosses. Notice how many of the biggest-grossing political docus have come in the very recent past: 15 of the top 20 were released post-2000. Also notice how many of them are of a leftward persuasion. If nothing else, George W. Bush's administration has been great for liberal documentary filmmakers.
Alright, that's too glib. But it is striking how the liberal documentary market has come alive in the past six years. Of the 62 highest-grossing political documentaries of all time, 49 of them were released after the 2000 election, and nearly all of them are lefty. It's another entire medium that has come to be dominated by the left.
Or has it? Could it just be that the political docu has finally come into its own as a medium and that, when a Democratic administration is in the White House, we'll see the rise of conservative documentaries? They're cheap and relatively easy to make, and the bar for success is set pretty low. You don't need to open like Dead Man's Chest to get on the map.
Anyway, most people don't pay attention to the documentary category until they're watching the Oscars. But I think that for a number of reasons--digital video and cheap editing software, the growth of digital delivery, the turbulent political culture--this medium could develop in interesting ways over the next few years.
Update: Galley Friend M.G. sends this Slate link about political docus. Writer Anthony Kaufman says, "After Michael Moore's docubuster Fahrenheit 9/11 opened the floodgates with its $119 million in ticket sales, offering solid proof that political docs could make waves in the marketplace, a litany of films has arrived in its wake . . ."
I think that's not quite right. Again, go to our political docu chart and you'll see Fahrenheit 9/11 as the highest-grossing pic in the genre with $119M. That's a huge haul. But the difference between first and second place here is gigantic. #2 is Inconvenient Truth with $23.7M. By the time you get to #5 on the list--The Fog of War--you're looking at a gross of $4.2M. If only three docus in the history of the genre have topped $10M in total receipts, I don't think you can interpret the success of Fahrenheit 9/11 has a sign that the genre is ready to do big business. It's certainly expanding and growing, but I wouldn't interpret this as it becoming a major part of the marketplace. It's still a very, very niche medium.
What's interesting is how that niche is dominated ideologically.
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