Fahrenheit 911 By the Numbers

Tonight I ran across a couple of pieces that offer numerical perspectives on the Fahrenheit 911 phenomenon. The first is a MyDD diary entry by Spartacus, who points out that despite the tremendous success of Fahrenheit 911, Disney probably cut its potential audience at least in half by refusing to distribute it. Here is an interesting chart I've compiled about movie openings over the last 18 months or so. Compiled here:
Movie	      $1,000's per theater   # of theaters
F 911		  27.6		     868
Passion 		  27.6		    3043
Shrek 2 		  26.0		    4163
Matrix 2		  25.5		    3603
Day After		  25.1		    3425
Harry Potter 3	  24.3		    3855
One of the most poignant things about observing this is that the distributor of a movie is usually the entity which makes the most money off a film, especially in the first few weeks after it opens. So what we have seen here is that Disney has willingly declined a huge payday, something in the neighborhood of 50 to 100 million dollars (who knows, maybe even more!) in gross revenues, which even for a company the size of Disney has a pretty substantial effect on the bottom line...

It's a strong statement when anyone turns down 50 million or more dollars. It seems to actually run in the face of the idea of free market economics or a corporation's main desire of existence being to make money for its investors. It would seem to be an act of social consciousness on the part of Disney, except of course for the obvious fact that they are taking a stance against a filmmaker who has stood for such corporate responsibility his whole career. Instead it becomes an act of suppression of such ideas. It's even at odds with the "we're a non political operation" official line Disney has stated for its reasons for not releasing the film. Cha. Why sign on to a Michael Moore project in the first place then? It was very much a political statement, and they very much are saying that it's not the fact that this movie is political, but the way in which it is political that they are against.

With the highest per theater intake of any movie over the past two years, clearly Fahrenheit 911 would have been seen by a far wider audience had it been in more theaters. So, as much as many in the blogosphere have claimed otherwise, apparently at least one conservative attempt to keep the film from being shown did actually succeed, although it came at a huge price. In effect, by refusing to distribute the film, Disney made a $100M soft-money donation to the Bush campaign.

The second piece is a dailykos diary entry by Brainwrap who, after going through a series of assumptions, attempts to estimate how many votes Fahrenheit 911 is worth to Kerry:

So, assuming I'm anywhere close to accurate so far, that would give us roughly:
  • 700,000 swing voters who were likely to swing Bush's way prior to seeing the film
  • 560,000 Naderites/mod repubs
  • 140,000 taunting Bushie types--forget about them
Let's assume that one out of three Swingers are effected enough by the film and the surrounding controversy/buzz/actual research on the facts to decide to tip Kerry's way; that's roughly 230,000 votes (???)

Let's also assume that most of the Nader supporters finally have some sense knocked into their heads, along with a small-but-decent number of mod Repubs. That's another 300,000 or so (???)

I also gotta figure that another chunk of each of the above may not actually vote for Kerry, but will choose to not vote at all instead of voting for Bush--maybe another 100,000 total?

A lot of assumptions go into these estimates, but if nothing else they are amusing. Imagine how many more votes the movie might be worth had it been in more theaters.

Update: According to Boxofficemojo, F911 will be playing in almos twice as many theaters this weekend. It could take in even more money on its second weekend than on its first.

Tags: Media (all tags)



Per theater $
I'm not so sure not having Disney as the distributor hurt that much.  Some people who wanted to see it couldn't because of long lines, but not that many it seems.  If it was at twice as many theaters, I doubt it would have made as much per screen.  People just wouldn't have to drive as far or stand in such long lines to see it.

But in any case, with the number of screens going up this week, people who haven't had the chance to see the film yet will be able to -- and the buzz from the good first weekend might actually push more people into the theater.

What people really should be asking is, how much is that Florida tax break worth to Disney, and what made Disney think they'd lose it if they sponsored F9/11?

by Colorado Luis 2004-06-30 04:50AM | 0 recs
I don't think so
I believe that I read in Variety that F9/11's opening on 868 screens was the largest roll out for any documentary to date, so I doubt that Disney's staying on as the distributor would have made much difference (except to Disney's bottom line).  Not only that, but the controversy stirred up by Disney's refusal to distribute, and then it's apparent unwillingness to give up the film, help to fuel interest in the film, which helped enable it to start on such a relatively large number of screens.  

I don't think you can draw conclusions from comparing the roll outs of normal fiction films to documentaries.

by Ed Fitzgerald 2004-06-30 09:01AM | 0 recs
Why did Disney back out?
Oh, and as for Disney's motivations for withdrawing from the potential profits of the film, I thought originally that there must have been a political motive, but the more I think about it, the more I believe the answer lies in the pressure that Michael Eisner is under from Roy Disney, Walt's nephew.  Roy is trying to oust Eisner, and has had some modest success in taking him down a little.  His basic claim is that Disney should concentrate on its core businesses and brands, and that it's doing stuff (via Touchstone, Hollywood Pictures and Miramax, for instance) that Walt would never had done were he still running the company.

In short, Eisner's under attack from the (business, not political) right, and the last thing he needed was to have the company connected to what was going to be an very controversial film blasting the person occupying the Oval Office -- certainly that's something that Walt would never had done, and would provide Roy with a huge hammer to hit Eisner over the head with.

(Now, of course, Roy can also say something like "If you're going to be in the business of doing things Walt wouldn't do, at least you should make money out of it, so why did you turn down the heaps of money to be made off of F9/11?," but (1) there's some doubt he would say that (he hasn't yet, to my knowledge) and (2) even if he did, it's not as strong a charge in the Disney world as disloyalty to The Founder's Vision.)

So, I think the answer to why Disney backed out has a lot more to do with the way Eisner's situation had changed from the time they green-lighted the film (based on their agreement with the Weinsteins, Disney had to approve it because it fell above a certain budget figure) to when the film was due to be released, rather than political considerations (although they also might have played a part in the decision-making process).

by Ed Fitzgerald 2004-06-30 09:22AM | 0 recs


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