Political films can't compete with real thing

Mon Oct 13, 2008 7:32pm EDT
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By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It's been a discouraging couple of weeks for those on the right. John McCain is lagging Barack Obama in the national polls. Sarah Palin is still firing up the Republican base, but she's gone from novelty act to punch line amid the broader electorate. And even worse, "An American Carol," a movie that proudly waves the flag, has failed to find traction at the boxoffice.

Two weekends ago, David Zucker's fractured political satire, which aims most of its barbs at the excesses of a Michael Moore-like director, opened in ninth place, attracting $3.7 million in 1,639 theaters. In its second weekend, the film dropped a steep 64 percent and has earned $6 million to date.

To make invidious comparisons worse, "Religulous," the documentary from left-libertarian Bill Maher that sends up religion, opened just below "Carol" but enjoyed a better second-weekend hold, falling by only 35 percent. Its total stands at $6.7 million, even though "Carol" is playing in almost three times as many theaters as "Religulous."

No doubt, some on the right will see "Carol's" box office marginalization as further evidence of left-leaning Hollywood's domination of the culture. Writing on Townhall.com's Publius Forum, Warner Todd Huston raised an alarm that "there have been some disturbing reports that ticket sales for the film have been fraudulently credited to other films," though he later insisted he never suggested there was a "conspiracy" to undermine the movie.

More simply, "Carol" just encountered resistance among moviegoers more interested in lining up for a Disney movie about chattering Chihuahuas. A left-wing response to "Carol" would probably have fared just as poorly.

If, say, Moore himself tried his hand at a comedy satirizing Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly (the latter of whom makes an appearance in "Carol" to slap the Moore character around), it would likely fall on equally deaf ears. If you need evidence, look no further than Moore's one narrative movie, 1995's "Canadian Bacon," in which an American president played by Alan Alda tries to start a cold war with Canada to raise his standing in the polls. Released after the death of star John Candy, that movie grossed a whopping $164,000.

Hollywood might be a hotbed of liberalism, but when it comes to manufacturing mainstream entertainment, most Hollywood liberals are only too happy to check their politics at the door. For outside of a brief period in the 1960s, political satire of any stripe has rarely triumphed at the box office.

Certainly, there have been periods in our history when films were more engaged with political realities than they are today. In the '30s, confronted with the Great Depression, a lot of movies did champion the little man, most explicitly in the films of Frank Capra.   Continued...

<p>Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain, Republican vice presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (C) and her husband Todd (L) greet supporters during a rally in Virginia Beach, Virginia October 13, 2008. REUTERS/Carlos Barria</p>