We may finally have a successful political documentary made from a conservative perspective on our hands. “2016: Obama’s America” grossed $1.2 million this past weekend in limited release, including showings at New York City’s Regal Union Square theaters that placed it third behind “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Total Recall,” according to a story in the Hollywood Reporter by Pam McClintock.
The film, from author Dinesh D’Souza and John Sullivan, expands to more than 1,000 theaters Friday just ahead of the Republican National Convention. That push should easily make it the highest-grossing non-nature documentary of the year thus far (above “Bully”), as it already has collected $2 million since it began its slow rollout in July. Indiewire's weekend box office article from Sunday tells more of that story.
McClintock notes that the film, which purports to investigate the president’s murky past and show how a second term would be a bad result for the country, has done well in several cities with liberal-leaning demographics, including New York and San Francisco. But no exit interviews establishing the political identities of audiences have yet been provided, which could just mean that right-leaning viewers that live in those areas went to check out the movie and not necessarily that curious left-leaning viewers were buying tickets, too.
In any case, signs point to potential Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan supporters hungry for the message D’Souza delivers in the film. Modern political conventions famously include fawning, hagiographic short films to illustrate their messianic candidates, but that’s pitching to a stacked crowd. The very fact that a documentary gets a standard theatrical release lends it a different kind of weight — viewers are more likely to approach it as a credible portrait (the "2016" tagline, "Love Him, Hate Him, You Don't Know Him," cleverly pitches the film as a non-ideological take). Should anyone at the Republican convention mention “2016” or encourage voters to see it, box office numbers could spike just as it becomes available nationally.
Just how much of a groundswell that creates for the GOP campaign — or how many independents’ votes ultimately are secured by the film — is nearly impossible to gauge. But if that kind of data could be collected, and it showed that the movie had a genuine impact, however small, on the election, then exhibitors, filmgoers and filmmakers could see the birth of a whole new method of political advocacy that provides a new avenue for profitable moviemaking, too.