Doctor, My Box Office is Broken

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Roger Hickey argues that SiCKO is "building a movement."

Now breaking box office records in its second week in theaters, SiCKO conveys powerfully emotional stories of Americans trapped in a system controlled by insurance and drug companies that deny care and destroy lives in order to maintain their profits.

Except… it's not breaking any records. None at all. It came in 9th at the box office this weekend and made less money than last weekend despite expanding from 441 to 702 screens. Its per-screen average was $5,199. Not awful, but not as good as Rescue Dawn, Transformers, or Joshua, and only marginally better than Live Free or Die Hard. It's only the 8th highest-grossing documentary of all time, and the way things are going it's unlikely it'll do more than knock Madonna: Truth or Dare out of the 5th spot. Adjust for inflation and it wouldn't even do that.

Michael C. Moynihan gave SiCKO a pan in our pages. Last week I noticed that the movie was stiffing rather badly.

NEXT: "Oh, Shit. That Kid."

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  1. I saw Transformers this weekend.

    20 minutes in I was thinking that even Sicko would have been a better choice.

    That isn’t intended as praise for Sicko.

  2. Oh, I’m sure it’s breaking some box office records like largest opening by a documentary in the history of Alaska.

    Having the 9th highest gross of the week while being on 742 screens doesn’t sound all that bad for a documentary, nor does pushing Madonna out of the 5th spot. If only he’d found a way to put a penguin on the poster.

  3. $3,650,000 -18.9%
    702 (theaters) +261
    __________________

    Prognosis: Negative!

  4. I’m sure somewhere Michael Moore is dreaming of the day when he can acheive the popular influence and monetary success of Reason magazine.

  5. If only he’d found a way to put a penguin on the poster.

    Right. A Penguin marriage and you’ve got box office gold, Baby!

  6. thoreau, I am so very, deeply sorry. I hoped you punched anyone who made you go right in the throat.

  7. At the risk of repeating myself yet again, the numbers still don’t prove much. Yes, SiCKO almost doubled the number of screens but fell off 19% (a very low 2nd week fall-off, btw, probably due to the increase in screens). But let’s see what the numbers look like by the end of the summer when the damned thing is still playing.

    BTW, Transformers had a mind boggling budget of $150 million and opened on 4,011 screens. Do you really think that’s a fair comparison?

  8. “I saw Transformers this weekend.”

    why?

    that’s a far better question than i could come up with about sicko.

  9. I’m sure somewhere Michael Moore is dreaming of the day when he can acheive the popular influence and monetary success of Reason magazine.

    Oh, Moore’s making off OK. The movie’s turning a profit and he might even win another Oscar. I’m not knocking him as much as I’m knocking the people who think “box office numbers on low end of expectations” = “launching a movement.”

  10. David, I think the idea is that Moore has tapped into an idea that already existed among the majority of Americans; namely, with all our resources, we could be doing better. Even if Sicko doesn’t sell one more ticket, it’s hard to deny that the film has not successfully thrust our lousy health-care system into mainstream national debate. That’s what’s important, box office numbers aside.

  11. dhex-

    When I was a kid I absolutely loved those toys. So of course I had to see the movie.

    Man, what a mistake that was.

    One of the guys who worked on the script for Transformers is matching charitable donations this month. You give a buck to the charity, he also gives a buck. This is our chance to bankrupt him.

    Details here:

    http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2007/07/charity-of-month-fisher-house.html

  12. transformers was fucking awesome you are all fools

  13. from the article another quote:

    We walk into the movie house individuals with our particular gripes about the health care system. And we walk out wanting to be part of a national movement for health care for all.

    I may be mistaken, haven’t most people going to see Sicko made up their minds already about the need for universal health care in this country? Or does the author really think that this film is going to jumpstart a grassroots campaign? That to me is wishful thinking and a bit naive to think that Americans today are able to organize anything close to what is need to achieve such a lofty goal.

  14. Are big-budget summer blockbusters really the proper yardstick for measuring the success of a political documentary?

    Ah, Reason – where the Ron Paul campaign is catching on like wildfire, but SICKO is a failure because on its second weekend in release, it is only in the top ten all time of a very generously stretched definition of its genre.

  15. I may be mistaken, haven’t most people going to see Sicko made up their minds already about the need for universal health care in this country?

    No, you’re not mistaken, at least not regarding the movie’s audience so far. The fact is, however, that we are inching toward some form of government controlled national “health-care system” and one could just as easily argue that Moore’s film is effect rather than cause in that shift.

  16. Are big-budget summer blockbusters really the proper yardstick for measuring the success of a political documentary?

    I mean Goering’s box office returns couldn’t hold a candle to Moore’s even adjusting for inflation.

  17. We walk into the movie house individuals with our particular gripes about the health care system. And we walk out wanting to be part of a national movement for health care for all.

    Reminds me of the type of person who will blame a movie whenever some kid commits a crime.

  18. Thanks to the series of tubes and a hash, I had opportunity yo download and watched Sicko before it even hit theaters.

    Not a good movie. Moore’s an illogical nanny stater…. A rich one at that…the worst kind!

  19. I mean Goering’s box office returns couldn’t hold a candle to Moore’s even adjusting for inflation.

    I think you mean Goebbels, and I’ll bet Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens did boffo boxoffice back in ’35.

  20. it’s hard to deny that the film has not successfully thrust our lousy health-care system into mainstream national debate

    “Mainstream” debate? If politicians talking at each other is mainstream, if policy wonks debating other policy wonks is mainstream, then yes. But I don’t see or hear any friends or coworkers debating healthcare. I work at a normal company with normal people who have typical health issues. It just isn’t being talked about, much less “debated.” But then again, we’re not very smart.

  21. I think you mean Goebbels, . .

    Two weeks ago I couldn’t spell historian . . . now I are one

  22. Hey, gang, let’s play “Spot Danny McTroll!”

    Who wants to go first?

    Oh, you all already know, huh. Shoot.

  23. a very generously stretched definition of its genre.

    And never is the definition of “documentary” stretched farther than when it includes a Moore film.

  24. It’s obviously not doing well because of the medical-pharmaceutical complex that stole the movie and leaked it online to subvert Moore’s message.

  25. And never is the definition of “documentary” stretched farther than when it includes a Moore film.

    Ya know, uncomfortable as I am in the role of Michael Moore defender here, that’s not really true, either. Documentaries from Nanook of the North on have been staged or presented biased POVs in the guise of objectivity. Moore just found a way to commercialize the genre by extending 60 Minutes style ambush journalism with an entertaining narrative.

  26. it’s hard to deny that the film has not successfully thrust our lousy health-care system into mainstream national debate.

    Awkward double-negative notwithstanding, it isn’t hard to deny at all. The health-care system has been a subject of “mainstream national debate” for more than two decades.

  27. A couple weeks ago NPR’s movie guy reviewed the weekend’s three new releases. Actually, he reviewed two. Here’s how the six and a half minute segment broke down: one minute each for Die Hard and Ratatouille, in which he told us what he liked or didn’t like about those films; the remaining four and a half minutes were spent canonizing Michael Moore. It’s okay to like the movie, but jeez. OTOH, Moore’s appearance on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me was actually very engaging. The stories about the insurance companies preparing for his arrival were priceless.

  28. “When I was a kid I absolutely loved those toys. So of course I had to see the movie.”

    you know what, i know i had a lot of those toys and saw the cartoons and whatnot, but i don’t remember a fucking thing about them. that’s the weirdest shit, isn’t it? there are huge gaps in my memories from childhood that all of my friends can remember and i’m left with a vague wistfulness. i remember a lot of the shit i read, and i remember a fair amount about the video games i played, and the sports and the usual triumphs and (mostly) tragedies, but when it comes to cartoons and toys…nothing.

    like the other day i had no idea he man had an alter ego who was like clark kent wussy. i figured he wandered about like a hypersexualized barbarian all the time. but i had all those toys, so i should have remembered this stuff. gone. totally gone. which isn’t really a bad thing, mind you, but i do wonder where all this shit went.

    in lighter news i heard an interesting theory this weekend that moore is a propagandist for the un. that would actually give me hope, cause if he’s the best the superstate can come up with maybe things won’t be so bad, but uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh no.

  29. Yeah, but “Truth or Dare” rocked! I mean, it ROCKED!

    I won’t be seeing SICKO because I’m too tight to give MM a dime, but as propaganda I think it’s going to work better than a lot of U of Chi school economists want to admit. Because people are weak, damn it! They’re weak! Frankly, they don’t deserve to survive!

  30. dhex,

    He wasn’t just a wussy…

    Not that I’m here to judge.

  31. You know what would be a quick and easy way to determine whether SiCKO had helped launch a major national debate about the health care system?

    Take a look at media outlets, like Hit & Run for instance, and see if they’ve been running more pieces on the subject since SiCKO hit the national media.

  32. Documentaries from Nanook of the North on have been staged or presented biased POVs in the guise of objectivity.

    But how many are as deliberately deceptive as a MM production? Take a look at the top 100 grossing documentaries

    Now I’d say Inconvenient Truth and Super Size Me are pure Agitprop but no one is as shameless in their construction of false reality as MM.

  33. Oh, I don’t know, Warren. I’d say No. 89, Inside Deep Throat was pretty hard to swallow, too.

  34. I agree with joe. The best thing we can do is just ignore Moore until he goes away.

  35. I agree Alan Vanneman, people are weak. I think a lot of times we confuse how the film will affect our social circles with how it will affect the masses.

    Joe – I don’t think threads where everyone talks about SICKO and how much they can’t stand MM count as “major national debate about the health care system.” I’m not even sure that most people understand what a “debate” is, or what good such a national debate would do if nobody knows wtf they’re talking about.

  36. I’m not even sure that most people understand what a “debate” is, or what good such a national debate would do if nobody knows wtf they’re talking about.

    Right. Debating isn’t the same as complaining. Lots of Americans complain about their health and other things, but we’re too stupid (most of us) to do it intelligently. It’s mostly emotional and ineffectual whining. Too bad, as it will require courage and intellect to steer us away from the disaster of socialized medicine.

  37. I think “It’s a bad thing that the ignorant general public is discussing health care because of SiCKO” is a pretty good fallback position from “No one is discussing health care because of SiCKO.”

  38. Take a look at media outlets, like Hit & Run for instance, and see if they’ve been running more pieces on the subject since SiCKO hit the national media.

    I know you were thinking “Snap! Gotcha!”, but really Hit & Run talks about health care insessantly long before SiCKO.

    We *ARE* talking about SiCKO more since the release of SiCKO.

  39. Hey, joe, I have an idea.
    I’m going to start a major national debate about our urban development system and how it’s broken! The focus of it will be that we need more zoning for single-use structures spaced farther apart, and without those nasty little sidewalks that nobody uses because it costs a lot of money for something nobody uses. Then the entire f’ing country will weigh in on this “debate” and we’ll come up with some lovely federal policy that completely upends anything you want to do. They’ll do so with good intentions, thinking it will improve their quality of life.

  40. Bring it on, Reinmoose.

    We’ll kick your ass. As with health care, the left gives voice to the majority’s dissatisfaction with the status quo in urban development and sprawl, and the right can only play defense against their criticisms.

  41. “””and the way things are going it’s unlikely it’ll do more than knock Madonna: Truth or Dare out of the 5th spot.”””

    I’d rather watch Madonna deep throat a water bottle over Moore bitching about health care any day.

  42. My contempt for Michael Moore is second to none, but this gloating over Sicko’s alleged box office failure is pathetic. It’s on pace to make around $25 million, right around what Bowling for Columbine and An Inconvenient Truth made. This is phenomenal business. How many political documentaries make even $1 million in theatrical release?

  43. the left gives voice to the majority’s dissatisfaction with the status quo in urban development and sprawl, and the right can only play defense against their criticisms.

    Ah, but which one is better suited for masturbation? I would say both.

  44. joe –
    It never ceases to amaze me how after ages at H&R you still think everyone understands this “left/right” bullshit you pull.

  45. jimmydageek,

    There is nothing masturbatory about urban planning. Nothing. At all.

    I was just combing my hair.

  46. I’m sorry. I stopped reading after the half-assed attempt against Michael Moore’s patriotism.

  47. blues,
    “That to me is wishful thinking and a bit naive to think that Americans today are able to organize anything close to what is need to achieve such a lofty goal.”

    Americans today can’t even organize their own closets, much less a health plan. Nothing will ultimately come of this, except that we’ll all end up paying more taxes for something that works worse for the majority of us.

  48. I doubt Moore would have made this move had he not thought that this was an issue the average American worried about. And look at it–ok, you don’t get insurance, when something goes wrong you have to pay your own medical expenses. Everyone understands that, and will admit to a certain “fairness” even while bitching about the cost of medical treatment.

    But after you’ve gone ahead, virtuously trimmed your budget to pay for that very important health insurance, and then discover you’re in the hands of an entity which will deny, deny, deny payment on the slightest terms? Accusations of “pre-existing conditions”, insistance that “you have to get permission to use an ambulance first” (what am I, a foreteller?), denial of anything can be possibly interpreted as “experimental” (never mind that the standard treatment isn’t working.) No wonder Moore hit a nerve.

    When people in health insurance companies get bonuses based on the number of claims they turn down, that’s just totally insane.

    If Moore’s film ends up forcing insurance companies to straighten up and stop screwing the people who have signed contracts with them, then more power to him. Maybe he being the boogeyman to the insurance companies, rattling the bones of Socialized Medicine in their faces is the best way to get them to shape up.

    Face it–the US health system feels broken to more and more Americans. If private industry doesn’t fix their problems, there WILL be a push for government to step in and try to solve the problem. If Libertarians don’t like that prospect, they should be screaming bloody murder at the insurance companies and pushing as hard as possible for them to fix things. Moore is just a chip riding on the surface of the flood.

  49. Huh? I didn’t see anything about Moore’s patriotism.

  50. Fans of nationalization want to hype the movie as part of their agenda. Opponents would like to make it seem irrelevant so that there is no sense of a national movement.

    There is a national movement, at least in the form of the grey horde known as the AARP, and they all vote. Opponents of a national program will lose. Innovation will clang to a halt for a number of years and people will die and suffer as a result. No one will blame Moore or his advocates for constructing a system that doesn’t incentivize innovation.

    Simultaneously, the costs of existing national health programs will climb at a greater rate without the US market subsidizing costs and providing an outlet for people who want to pay for quality. It will be seen as the cost of doing business, and no one will blame Moore or his advocates for pushing a system that was so obviously cost effective only a few years earlier.

    My only hope is that either the costs of the system will rise to intolerable levels and market incentives will be reintroduced, or the old cohort all die and the remaining younger folk vote for more innovation.

    In the mean time, though, it is going to suck.

  51. Pardon my bitterness. I just see a bunch of people trying to ensure I wind up with untreatable Altzheimers on or about by 70th year.

  52. Perhaps the headline should have read, “Doctor, I’ve had a box office for more than four hours.”

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