The surprising box office success this weekend of "2016: Obama's America," a documentary challenging the president's record, is propelling its producers to further widen its reach on the eve of the Republican National Convention.
“We’re going to go where the demand takes us,” Mark Joseph, who is leading marketing for the film, told TheWrap Sunday, “and right now, there is a lot of demand.”
With its catchphrase — "Love Him. Hate Him. You Don't Know Him" — the right-wing "2016" burned past the per-screen average of the studio sequel "Expendables 2" and came within a hair's breadth of newcomer "Premium Rush" in total ticket sales.
How did that happen?
Based on conservative author Dinesh D'Souza's book, "The Roots of Obama's Rage," the documentary purports to show what the nation will be like should President Obama be re-elected, and includes an interview with the president's half brother, George Obama.
With the Republican convention convening this week in Tampa, independent distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures on Friday expanded it from 169 to 1,091 screens. It took in $6.2 million over the three days for a per-screen average of $5,940 — the best of any film in wide release, including the No. 1 film, "Expendables 2."
Also read: Right-Wing Documentary '2016: Obama's America' Steals Box-Office Show
Juiced by advance sales, "2016" on Friday raced past the projections of industry analysts, most of whom predicted a $4 million weekend.
D'Souza co-directed with John Sullivan. Produced for a reported $2.1 million, "2016" has made $9.3 million since its release seven weeks ago, and has surpassed "Bully" as the year's top-earning documentary.
The film played most strongly in a range of states that were varied geographically as well in terms of red and blue. They included New York, Washington, Lousiana and Kansas, according to Joseph, who headed the marketing campaign along with Sullivan.
He discounted reports that there were religious groups shepherding moviegoers to the film and that othes were bused in. He said the only effort organized by his company was a Los Angeles call center designed to get the word out.
The Rocky Mountain team will huddle Monday and set a course for future expansion, but Joseph left no doubt they intended to be aggressive and put the movie into even more theaters.
So how indicative is the film's popularity of the country's feeling about Obama?
It may be more of a box-office coup than a bellwether for the nation’s political pulse, according to left-leaning documentary filmmaker Robert Greenwald ("Koch Brothers Exposed," "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War") of Brave New Films.
Greenwald feels the success of the film is mostly a matter of preaching to the choir.
“I think that documentaries have an impact and the potential to affect people’s thinking and feeling,” he told TheWrap on Sunday. “But when you put a movie in a theater and ask people to pay between $7 and $12, you are getting a very small, select group of people who already have an opinion.
“Think about it,” he said. “Who is going to pay money to go see a film that says Obama is really terrible?“
One of the film’s producers is Gerald Molen, who has worked on Steven Spielberg films, including “Schindler’s List” and “Jurassic Park.” He disagreed strongly with the idea that people who were backers of Obama would steer clear of the film.
“Why? It isn’t designed to bash Obama, it’s more about information,” he told TheWrap on Sunday. “My dream is that people will go into it with an open mind. I want people to learn to care, to learn to understand about whoever is going to lead this country.”
Greenwald acknowledged that documentaries in general can have value in terms of rallying the base, and “2016” appears to have done that.
Rush Limbaugh, for example, has been a vocal proponent of the film.
“People are seeing it that have never, ever, been exposed to this kind of discussion or criticism or explanation for who Obama is,” Limbaugh said on his radio program last week, urging his listeners to buy a ticket (he also urged them to go see “Expendables 2.”)
And Glenn Beck, in an interview with D'Souza, called the documentary an “election-season bomb.” He compared it Michael Moore's 2004 film "Farenheit 9/11," which was highly critical of President George W. Bush.
That film is the highest-grossing political documentary of all time, and took in $119 million domestically and $222 million at the worldwide box office.
But the differences between "2016: Obama's America" and "Farenheit 9/11" go beyond their box office grosses, Greenwald told TheWrap.
"'Fahrenheit 9/11' was the exception because it didn’t speak to electoral politics, it spoke about the [Iraq] war," he said.
And it’s worth noting that despite the big box-office numbers posted by “Farenheit,” Bush still won the election.
Kasia Anderson contributed to this report.