Monday, April 11, 2005

Taking Liberties With Michael Moore's Liberties

An entertaining excerpt from Byron York's new book detailing the Fahrenheit 9/11 hype machine can be found here. I take issue with one assertion...that Moore's film had only the 32nd best opening weekend in 2004. York's assertion rests on Fahrenheit's $23 million box office take that weekend. That's not the whole story, and in an article that shows how expert Moore is at misleading people, it's sloppy enough to seriously undermine York's message.

How so? Fahrenheit got its $23 mil from only 868 screens. That's a very healthy $27,000 + per screen average. Fahrenheit also would go on to expand to 2,001 theaters at its height, and the $23 million represents 20% of its total North American box office take. By comparison, Shrek 2, the biggest box office draw of 2004, got a little over $25,000 per screen, but showed in over 4,100 theaters, a number that would only increase slightly at its peak. Furthermore, Shrek 2's opening weekend represented over 25% of its take. (All of these statistics can be easily verified at BoxOfficeMojo - I've taken the liberty of rounding off a little).

The meaning of these numbers is this: Fahrenheit opened surprisingly strong, and as a consequence, more theaters took a chance on putting it on more screens once they had them available. Furthermore, the relatively small percentage of total take from opening weekend means the film had legs. Finally, it's worth noting, on worldwide box office receipts of $222 million, versus $21 million for production and advertising, that Fahrenheit grossed 10 times its cost even before DVD and video receipts and other ancillary figures are included.

Why am I spending so long defending Michael Moore? Well, I'm not really - I'm just asking for a more rounded view. York's point, and it's well made, is that Moore's film was never as big in the heartland as he claimed it was. Well, Byron, we already knew Michael Moore was a habitual liar and chronic publicity hound...but his overall success is undeniable, and a fuller picture of the box office reveals a film that truly was a major, major hit. I'm calling this one a draw...

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