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Will Palin Doc “The Undefeated” Be Defeated at the Box Office?

Will Palin Doc "The Undefeated" Be Defeated at the Box Office?

Opening in 10 cities across the nation from sea to shining sea today — from Orange County, CA to Orlando, FL — “The Undefeated’ is poised to break out big at the box office in limited release, further fomenting Palin fever among Tea Party members and right-wing fans.

The film has encountered scathing reviews, a 34 out of 100 on Metacritic.com, with the L.A. Times calling it “a troop-rallying campaign infomercial as imagined by Michael Bay: hero-worshipping, crescendo-edited at a dizzying pace, thunderously repetitive and its own worst enemy as a two-hour, talking-points briefing.”

But such negative criticism from the “mainstream media” should only inflame the passions of Palinistas, and confirm their stereotypes of the left-wing press, fueling further ticket sales.

I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the first weekend’s shows were sold out. Opening weekend anticipation is high among Palin’s devoted followers, and a similar initial excitement greeted the Tea Party embraced “Atlas Shrugged” film a few weeks ago. When “Atlas Shrugged” opened on a much wider 299 screens in April, the film had a formidable $5,640 per-theater average, with an overall weekend gross of nearly $1.7 million. But the “Atlas Shrugged” buzz quickly fell off in its second weekend, and the film’s average crashed in subsequent weekends.

I suspect “The Undefeated” will follow a similar trajectory, but distributors Cinedigm Entertainment Group are keeping things small, surely to tout a mammoth per-theater average as it crawls around the country.

I can already see the Sunday evening press releases that will proclaim the film’s per-theater average as record-breaking. For comparison, Michael Moore’s “Sicko” currently holds the record for the highest grossing per-theater average when it opened on one screen and earned $69,000. A better comparison might be Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” which opened in 8 theaters, and came away with a $26,143 average. For other context: When the Oprah-supported “Precious” opened in 18 theaters, it had an astounding average of $104,025.

But the proof of the success of “The Undefeated” will take much longer to determine than opening weekend. Either way, the highly targeted release–borrowing from the DIY-style grassroots city-by-city campaigns long established by indie companies–is a smart move for a film that has a strong and devoted niche. Palin fans will be paying up not to see a movie, but to support their candidate. Which, of course, is fine by producers Victory Film Group, distrib Cinedigm and exhib AMC Theaters. Where there’s an audience, there’s a dollar.

As director Stephen Bannon told me in this Wall Street Journal Online interview, “Let’s be brutally frank: There’s not that much great product for conservatives. I’m a capitalist. We have to prove that there’s a market out there for this product. Look, Al Gore had $15 million in P&A from Paramount; Michael Moore had $15-20 from the Weinsteins [on “Fahrenheit 9/11″]. But social media has changed things. We have a couple of million dollars in P&A, and we’ll see how it does over time.”

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