By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik July 15, 2011 at 1:33AM
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."