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by Peter Knegt
July 18, 2011 7:46 AM
12 Comments
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Was The Sarah Palin Documentary Actually a Hit?

Sarah Palin documentary "The Undefeated" opened in 10 theaters this weekend and its performance was definitely the second most discussed topic among box office pundits yesterday (clearly, "Harry Potter" smashing every conceivable record was #1). indieWIRE's own box office column suggested the performance was "respectable" but "unspectacular," despite press releases that lauded the film's numbers.

One press release began:

ARC Entertainment Announces Strong Opening for “The Undefeated,” with multiple sold-out runs and vocal audience support.


“What would have taken months and cost millions, ARC did in weeks with virtually no traditional media advertising"


Wider national rollout to commence in the coming weeks

The release also included numerous quotes from people involved with the film, including Trevor Drinkwater, CEO of ARC Entertainment, the film's distributor:

“We are extremely pleased with the audience reaction, which has been over-the-top enthusiastic and very passionate, including standing ovations at most screenings. We expect word-of-mouth to keep ticket sales strong and we will definitely expand the film to a wider national audience. With merely three weeks of preparation and a virtually non-existent traditional advertising spend, the film did exceptionally well."

There is no denying that the fact that the film came into theaters on such short notice with such a minuscule advertising budget is impressive. But the grosses themselves are not.

The press release was quick to claim victory, but also only offered part of the story, refraining from giving full weekend estimates (which indieWIRE asked for on multiple occasions yesterday to no response):

"Through Saturday night the film had a stronger opening than expected with the large markets trending towards weekend per screen averages above $10,000 driven by multiple sold-out runs. The film had accumulated approximately $5,000 per screen through Saturday night."

In the end, while "The Undefeated" did manage $10,000+ grosses in some of its theaters, its actual gross was $65,132 for a per-theater average of $6,513. This also wasn't noted in an article on the website Conservatives4Palin, which ran with the headline "The Undefeated Has the Second Highest Gross Per Theater Average for Movies This Weekend."

That's actually not true. Errol Morris' "Tabloid" had a higher per-theater average at $6,514 (mind you, that's a difference of $1), while "Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness" averaged $20,998 from 1 screen for second. "The Undefeated" was fourth. And even still, a $6,513 average is nothing to phone home about. Had it been playing on 100 screens, sure. But this was a 10-screen release in conservative cities and small towns: Grapevine, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Independence, Maryland; Kennesaw, Ga.; Houston, TX; Orlando, FL; Oklahoma City, OK; Highlands Ranch, Colo.; Phoenix, AZ and Orange, Calif. A $15,000 or $20,000 average? Now that would have been cause for celebration.

To put it into context: On 22 screens earlier this year, Jodie Foster's "The Beaver" managed a $4,890 average in what is widely seen as one of the worst limited debuts of the year. Certainly it had a larger marketing budget and bigger star power than "The Undefeated." Though one could also argue Sarah Palin is as a big a draw as Jodie Foster or Mel Gibson.

Perhaps another appropriate comparison is the similarly right-wing pandering "Atlas Shrugged, Part I," which debuted on a far wider 299 screens and managed a similar $5,640 average. While that was a respectable debut for a film a release of that size, the film dropped off sharply in its second weekend and was generally perceived as a disappointment.

This is not to say "The Undefeated" was a disaster. Considering its production and marketing budget, and its swift release, a $6,513 average might not be great, but it's not horrible either. In an article in The Hollywood Reporter, it was also noted that the film was often playing in theaters with limited seat counts (95 seats was quoted as an example), and that there were definitely sold out shows (a theater in Phoenix even played the film on two screens at one point because of demand). All definitely worth noting.

But there was definitely -- and rather expectedly -- a lot of spin going on in announcing "The Undefeated" as a bona fide success story right out of the gate. What will define the film's success will come in the following weeks when distributor ARC Entertainment will expand it across the country; details of the expansion have yet to be released.

12 Comments

  • lanahi | July 20, 2011 4:07 AMReply

    This film was not advertised except through word of mouth...it was entirely a grassroots effort, and for this, it was a success. Maybe future releases will be advertised like most movies are.
    All of the 10 venues were small screen sites, most under 100 seats, so again, one would not expect large numbers. The movie is a documentary. How successful are most documentaries, especially played opposite the last Potter movie?
    The movie corrects an image skewed by three years of liberal media bashing. Palin is an incredible woman who was known as the most popular governor in the nation. There's a reason for that, and the movie shows what it is. Don't bash it if you haven't seen it.

  • MizzR | July 20, 2011 2:09 AMReply

    I've always been fascinated by the Palin "phenomenon" - she's a mediocre politician without much going for her except her good looks. Yet her following is the most dedicated I have ever seen (probably because I was not born when Aimee Semple McPherson was alive).

    And that's part of the problem. I feel that the filmmakers have been dishonest - cynically so. I probably shouldn't feel sorry for people who are so willingly used, but it's one thing for them to bust a gut and the household budget to give everything to Sarah Palin herself, but Sarah Palin doesn't actually see any money from this POS movie. Sorry, Bannon - it's a POS and you know it. What's more, their devotion blinds them to the fact that the production, release, distribution and marketing are just plain weird. The filmmakers laud numbers which are half of what they had previously stated were necessary for the film to go wide. They declare victory because they rush-released what they call a "rough cut" and left Palinistas scampering to do their marketing for them. They talk triumphantly about adding five or six new cities next week while neglecting to mention the film is not going to be showing again in two (KC and Indianapolis). They claimed the film was opening in Palm Desert on July 22 AFTER telling the theater it might open "sometime during the weekend of the 29th" - they "hoped", and putting forward a lame excuse as to why ("We want time to build word-of-mouth before we show it again"). The box office numbers themselves are deceptive. Many screenings were sold out in terms of ticket sales, but they were hardly full. This is because Victory Films and Arc Distribution warned Palin's fans that it was VITAL for them to buy five or ten tickets each and hassle friends, family members and even their bosses and colleagues to do the same - for screenings hundreds of miles from home and on the opening weekend of the last installment of the Harry Potter franchise. This positively reeks of the producers and distributor trying to turn a quick buck with zero effort.

    Personally, I would be insulted if I went to a commercial opening to be told the film wasn't really finished and they spent next to nothing on marketing, and when the film was panned and the numbers worse than expected, hey, not the filmmaker or distributor's fault, right? And when sites like Indiewire which routinely post box office estimates on Saturday and final grosses on Monday asked Arc for their numbers, they hedged so long The Undeeated didn't appear in the Top 50, when revealing the numbers would have put it at about 29.

    What a dreadful way to make and market a movie. And at a time when Sarah Palin is trying to build some credibility by fully participating with the MSM (Newsweek) following a lengthy interview with The Atlantic, this unfinished, poorly written, poorly shot, poorly edited POS with its bizarre use of stock footage and equally bizarre soundtrack makes Palin and her followers look like the biggest fools on the planet.

    They should have called this "The Undermined" because that's exactly what it does, or "The Underhanded" because that's exactly what it is.

  • grammy11 | July 19, 2011 12:57 PMReply

    After all of the years of laughing at Palin, I now feel pity. She will stoop to nothing for attention. She should be very ashamed of this movie that is so far from TRUTH, It is pitiful.

  • LaKeisha Washington | July 19, 2011 4:45 AMReply

    Mainstream Media Is Not Reporting On Incredible Trend in Palin Poll Numbers
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2732107/posts

    POLL: Palin, Romney Take Lead Among Iowa Conservatives As Early Race Tightens
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2732097/posts

    If Sarah Palin Gets in the Race, She Will be the Candidate to Beat
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2732070/posts

    Jobs Report: OK, Now You Can Panic
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2745829/posts

    Palin can ‘snap her fingers’ for money, run and beat Obama, warns GOP expert
    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2731881/posts

  • Lynda | July 19, 2011 4:25 AMReply

    Viper, one has only to listen to the speeches she wrote herself, as in her resignation speech and many of her emails to realize you're speaking of things her advisors wrote for her. There is a noticeable difference between things that Rebecca Mansour wrote and other advisors and those that Palin wrote. She often uses run-on sentences and many times it would take someone with a Ph.D in English to diagram her sentences. She may have you fooled but she hasn't fooled over 70% of the population who have only grown to dislike her more as her favorable ratings have continued to drop the more she's exposed. Her unfavorable ratings rise in correlation and very few are without an opinion.

    For anyone to call Palin an effective and sophisticated communicator, they haven't been listening to her speak off-the-cuff nor have they read anything that was actually written by Palin alone. The I.Q. challenged have been fooled by her and believe in this mythical persona they have attached to Palin. Anyone who has been around her for any length of time is no longer a part of her staff. She has been unable to retain staff from earlier days which speaks volumes. They've come to see the real $arah and they don't like what they see.

  • Kate | July 19, 2011 4:13 AMReply

    Anne Quinn says "do yourself justice and just go see it and then decide what you think. But remember, be honest". That admonition regarding honesty would be better sent to the producer of the film who left out that attribute when making the film. He deliberately presented a very biased side to Palin that reflected a picture of her that is a far cry from reality, but then again Palin's relationship with the truth has always been a distant one as noted in the Alaskan newspapers since her days as Mayor.

    These are not "hateful" statements I'm making but truthful ones. There are many things about Palin that are misrepresented in the movie. The MatSu Dairy is filled with friends of hers, in direct opposition to all her cries of "cronyism" when it comes to other politicians. These very same friends who defaulted on over $4 million in loans to the state of Alaska for their own dairies were loaned additional sums in the millions on Palin's direction. When the loan officer for the state demanded collateral for these loans from the individuals on the boards of the corporation, she overrode his demands, loaned her friends the money from the state despite their already having received two loans that were in opposition to state law for the dairy and on which payments were not being made on time. The loan officer was fired for daring to question Palin.

    Palin's attack on her former brother-in-law, despite any of his wrongdoings, was vindictive and nasty. She abused her power to try and fire him despite the fact that he had been punished by the union and no further punishment could be dished out. Palin lied about her part in the whole disgusting situation and refused to cooperate after initially telling Alaskans to "hold me accountable" and that her administration would be "transparent and open".

    The recently released emails showed a woman hellbent on revenge if anyone dared to speak out against her. It's all in black and white. Only those who refuse to read both sides of the story are stupid enough to believe this mythical & nonsense filled "documentary" on Palin.

  • Viper1 | July 19, 2011 2:34 AMReply

    Correction: "beliefs the right" shouldread"beliefs liberals".

  • Viper1 | July 19, 2011 2:32 AMReply

    Re: Jon Hand:

    You have confused your opinion--which is nothing more than your feelings about Sarah Palin-- with "fact". This is not word-play of a "Palinista"; it is Neurobiology 101. Your "certainty" that Palin is "a celebrity only" is an emotion generated in a primitive part of your brain, no differant than shame, anger, or fear. It is not the product of reason or rational consideration. Like all feelings it is an unconsciously produced experience that is a composite of experience, idiosyncratic modes ofperception, and bias.

    I'm making this point because it is epidemic on both sidesofthe aisle, although it seems the left has been made more vulnerable to confusing fact with feeling judging by the number and frequency of thoroughly irrational beliefsthe right holds about Palin. For example, despite the opinion of one of the left's most respected intellectuals, Camila Paglia (Google her) who maintains Palin is a very effective and sophisticated communicator, the left almost universally considers her inarticulate. similarly, John McWhorter, a liberal with a Ph.d in linguistics who wrote the following,

    "(Palin's sic) spelling is flawless—and unlikely to be completely a product of spell-check, which misses errors and often creates others. More to the point, she has an embedded clause (“locking up tax rates”) nested into a main one, with another clause “as Glenn suggests” nested within the embedded one. That’s good old-fashioned grammar school “syntax.” I have known plenty of people with B.A.s who could barely pull it off properly at gunpoint, and several others who would only bother to at gunpoint... ."

    liberals stubbornly believe she is illiterate.

    To cut to the chase the left continues to make a potentially lethal political mistake about Palin every fighter pilot, attorney, professional athlete, and physician is taught: NEVER underestimate your adversary no matter how superior you believe yourself to be and inferior it appears.

  • Jon Hand | July 19, 2011 1:04 AMReply

    I'm not surprised that Palin fans would overwhelmingly have positive things to say about this one-sided advertisement or I should say propaganda film. It doesn't change the fact that Palin is a celebrity only. God help us if she gets any kind of power.

  • Anne Quinn | July 18, 2011 11:28 AMReply

    Remember this is not a movie.It had no big actors and no big rollout.The film was pushed through word of mouth,facebook,blogs and the like.No matter the size of the audience the feeling in the theatre was overwhelming.Do yourself justice and just go see it and then decide what you think.But remember be honest.

  • Andrew813 | July 18, 2011 11:14 AMReply

    I also received an email encouraging me to advance purchase 4 seats. If I was unable to find 3 additional people to bring to The Undefeated it was suggested that I arrive early and offer them (for free) to movie goers who were unable to get into Harry Potter or other sold out movies. Needless to say I laughed and deleted the email.

  • Ben | July 18, 2011 9:19 AMReply

    Here's the thing. Even these mediocre numbers are inflated.

    Palin supporters are intentionally buying multiple tickets with the purpose of pumping up the numbers.

    They have been sending out bulk emails to other supporters urging each of them to buy at least 5 tickets each. In fact, they have contests and giveaway prizes to supporters who sell even more tickets. This is a fact - I've seen the emails.

    The number of actual people sitting in the theaters watching the movie is therefore much fewer than the dollar numbers would indicate.