May 8 2014, 3:30pm CDT | by Forbes
The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline are reporting that Lionsgate (Lions Gate Corp.) has picked up domestic distribution rights to Dinesh D’Souza’s America. D’Souza’s last project, 2016: Obama’s America, grossed $33 million in July 2012 from Rocky Mountain Pictures, which made it the second-highest grossing political documentary of all-time, behind Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. That Moore polemic earned an eye-popping $119m ten years ago, brought into theaters by none other than Lionsgate. That Lionsgate, the studio that partially made its name via the acquisition and distribution of the controversial left-leaning propaganda piece will now attempt a similar trick with an apparent conservative propaganda film is somewhat ironic. But it’s also a reminder that in a blue-state/red-state nation, the only color Hollywood cares about is green.
Back when Lionsgate was Lions Gate, they partially made a name for themselves by picking up hot-potato films like Kevin Smith’s Dogma and the aforementioned Fahrenheit 9/11. The latter’s massive success led to a mini-boom of progressive/liberal documentaries, many of them (The US Vs. John Lennon, Religious, Deliver Us From Evil, etc.) distributed by Lionsgate. One of the reasons I’ve always liked the studio is that they often do what we all claimed studios should be doing, using the profits of their pop entertainments to fund the production or distribution of smaller, more prestigious pictures or targeted demo theatrical releases. When I bought a ticket to Saw III, I was helping to fund to theatrical distribution of Akeelah and the Bee or Away From Her. When I bought a ticket to The Hunger Games, I was helping to fund the targeted theatrical release of Roadside Attractions films like Gimme Shelter.
Hollywood has again noticed the strong profits they have earned by smaller releases that target specific demographics. They noticed when Pantelion Films (aligned with Lionsgate of course) took Instructions Not Included to a record-breaking $44 million in America ($99m worldwide) by specifically offering the kind of mainstream character comedy to Hispanic moviegoers that white moviegoers take for granted. Sony successfully sold Think Like A Man in 2012 as an all-star ensemble romantic comedy that just happened to feature African-American actors to the tune of $91m in America off a $12m budget. We’ve all noticed the deluge of mainstream religious pictures that have popped up this year, as God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real, and Son of God have earned a combined $193m worldwide on a combined budget of $36m.
The House That Jigsaw Built is dropping this D’Souza piece in limited release on June 27th, or ten years to the weekend that they dropped Michael Moore’s anti-George W. Bush screed during the heart of Bush’s reelection campaign. Like the Moore documentary, it will go wide over July 4th weekend. I don’t know how limited the June 27th release will be, but I do know that Fahrenheit 9/11 scored $23.9 million on its opening weekend back in June 2004, breaking a record for a debut under 1,000 screens that had been held since Rocky III back in 1982 (20th Century Fox's Borat bested it with $26m on 868 screens in November 2006). I won’t presume to presume that America can pull off the same trick, but the release pattern is not a coincidence.
The America acquisition is yet another sign that Hollywood is again starting to realize, for arguably the first time since the relative DVD meltdown in the mid-2000′s, that there is real money to be made by serving famished demographics. For what it’s worth, this is not about politics. Lionsgate wasn’t motivated by liberalism to pick up Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and Sicko and they were not motivated by conservatism to distribute 2016: Obama’s America on DVD and now handle the wide theater release of America. We should remember that the same company that owns Fox News also airs The Simpsons and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Regardless of politics or creed, there is real money, potentially large profits for comparably small investments, producing and/or distributing smaller-scale pictures that target so-called “niche” audiences beyond the traditionally targeted demographic of young white males. It’s the same mindset that led Sony to distribute Heaven Is For Real or Soul Surfer, led Paramount to distribute The Kings of Comedy back in 2001, and led Lionsgate to distribute Keven Hart: Let Me Explain last 4th of July weekend. Regardless of your thoughts on Mr. D’Souza and/or his politics, a true diversification of mainstream theatrical fare is a good thing. I probably won’t see America in theaters. But as a champion of a vibrant and diverse theatrical marketplace, I’m glad it’s getting a wide release. When we see more targeted sells at more demographics, moviegoers of all walks of life win out.
There is good business to be done balancing the four-quadrant “for everyone” releases with targeted films that aren’t necessarily for everyone. Because when not every film at the multiplex is intended for everyone, you’re more likely to find something for anyone.
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