Wednesday, July 27, 2011

She's a politician, not a movie star. Why the box office failure of Sarah Palin's The Undefeated doesn't mean a gosh-darn thing.

However immature it may be, it can be fun to crow when your enemy fails.  Thus we've had two weeks of various liberal bloggers jumping for joy at the financial under-performance of the Sarah Palin halo-agraphy The Undefeated.  The film opened with $65,132 on ten screens for a mediocre $6,532 per-screen average.  It expanded to 14 locations this past weekend but dropped 62%, earning just $24,662 for a $1,762 per-screen average.  The film barely has $100,000 after ten days and has announced premature (?) plans to debut on Video on Demand and DVD release.  This is frankly an out-and-out tank, a genuine bomb even when compared to other political documentaries that aren't directed by Michael Moore (comparing all political documentaries to Moore's work would be like expecting Punisher: War Zone to out-gross Spider-Man 3).  Ben Stein's Intelligent Design documentary, Expelled, ended up grossing $7.7 million in 2008.  Even something as relatively low-key as The US vs. John Lennon opened with $11,523 per-screen on six screens and eventually grossed $1.1 million back in 2006.  What does this mean for the political fortunes of Sarah Palin and/or those who endorse her ideologies?  Absolutely nothing.

If you're among the liberals licking their lips with glee that few if anyone came out to see Palin's documentary, ask yourself: Would you rush out to see a similar documentary about someone more of your political persuasion?  Raise your hands if you went to a theater and saw Going Upriver: The John Kerry Story back in October, 2004?  I did, but I'm a movie nut who, especially when I was unmarried and without kids, try to see anything that may or may not inspire some kind of discussion (it's why I most certainly checked out The Passion of the Christ over opening weekend in February 2004).  But judging by the box office numbers, you probably didn't.  The film opened with $279,219 on 163 theaters and eventually grossed a whopping $614,138 in theaters.  Would anyone of you take time away from work and family to race out to see a completely uncritical and overtly partisan documentary about Barack Obama?  How about Russ Feingold or Alan Grayson?  Anyone...?  Sure, we might check out such a thing on television or on Netflix Instant, but there is a big difference between turning on our car stereo and listening to political talk radio and going out to a movie theater.  Preaching to the converted only works when the converted can be easily accessed.  Again, speaking through free talk radio or basic cable television is a lot easier than getting people to pay $10 (and possibly pay for babysitting) in order to be basically preached to about a philosophy that you already endorse.  

Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 made $119 million in 2004, the highest-grossing documentary in history, and George W. Bush still won re-election (say what you will about electoral votes in Ohio, it was a clean popular-vote victory).  The two biggest films of 2008, The Dark Knight and Iron Man were (wrongly in my opinion) held up as right-wing apologetics, and Barack Obama still handily won the 08 presidential election.  All the box office failure of Sarah Palin's The Undefeated means is that her fans are no more willing to spend money and time to watch a glowing portrait of someone they already endorse than we are.  So Sarah Palin is not a movie star.  Neither is anyone on our side.  That doesn't make her any less impressive to her fans or any less dangerous to her foes.  It certainly makes her no less relevant to the political discourse as long as those who choose what to report continue to hang on her every offhand comment.

Scott Mendelson            

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