On Saturday night, Jarren and I went to see A Mighty Heart (which was pretty good because Michael Winterbottom rocks) at Austin’s Arbor theater. It was unusually busy and crowded, with lines from the box office snaking out into the parking lot. Granted, there were several heavy-hitters in the theater this weekend, including Heart, Once, Waitress, Paris je t’aime, and local sensation Chalk. And, while many of these drove the Saturday prime-time crowds, it was a sneak screening of Michael Moore’s Sicko that was the primary culprit.
The film officially opened on one screen this weekend, in New York, and grossed an astounding $70,000. And, all signs indicate that in its couple dozen sneak-screening markets across the country, business was boffo. So, could Sicko be a bigger hit than analysts predicted? Weinstein Company reps have made a habit of proclaiming that expectations fall closer to 2002’s Bowling For Columbine (approx. $21 million) than to 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (approx. $120 million). Does this huge opening signify it will be more like somewhere in between? I’m no box office expert, but I doubt it. $20 million? $30? $40? Don’t forget, it is summertime, and there’s lots of competition. Plus, it’s kinda ironic that Americans are paying $10 to see a movie about how the “system” is ripping us all off. Sicko will be a certified box office hit, that’s for sure, but it lacks the same timely, gravitational/cultural pull of Fahrenheit 9/11.
Last year’s An Inconvenient Truth had a similar $70,000 per screen average on its opening weekend, and ended its successful theatrical run with around $24 million. It will be an interesting couple of weeks to observe, as Sicko gets its first expansion on June 29. Personally, I hope the film does well. Not just for the sake of the fickle theatrical doc business, but also because the film deserves it. It’s a great piece of filmmaking, and highly entertaining/enlightening.
Add to all this, the non-financial goals of Sicko, as reported in Sunday’s New York Times. Could Sicko reform American healthcare? Can one movie change anything? Did An Inconvenient Truth really start the Green revolution of 2007? As some critics point out, it’s not as if Bowling for Columbine had any impact whatsoever on the national gun culture. And, despite Fahrenheit‘s mammoth success, Bush was re-elected.
And, finally, did the film’s early leak to YouTube actually fuel interest? It certainly fueled publicity, even after the film was taken off the site (and reportedly only viewed by a mere 3,000). How does that whole ripple factor in the numbers? Great publicity stunt, or a sign that if people wanna see a film bad enough and if said film is good enough, they will typically wait and pay for the theaters?