The Big Question: How Many People Will See W. This Weekend?
by Alex Billington
October 17, 2008
A mere 18 days before the election, Oliver Stone's W. has hit theaters. And it's the question of the week - will anyone go see W. this weekend? Does anyone know the answer? Admittedly, Lionsgate has done a fantastic job of promoting it and building buzz in such short notice - they first picked up the distribution rights on May 10th. But will that buzz actually translate in sold out auditoriums and interested moviegoers? I'm not sure even I can come up with a good answer and I've even already seen it! Hell, I've even lost track of my initial thoughts due to a barrage of information surrounding this very question hitting all at once. But we'll try and look at this step-by-step, before the official box office results start to trickle in.
First things first, let's get my thoughts on W. out of the way. Even though Josh Brolin gives a phenomenal performance as George W. Bush, the film felt like one big novelty act. It felt like something I'd ever only watch once, just for the experience of saying I've seen it. The story was rather convoluted and contained only elements and stories from his life that we aren't all entirely familiar with already. It was as if Oliver Stone threw down pieces of tile to put together to make a shiny new kitchen floor, but never finished the job. The strengths are with Brolin as Bush, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, and a few other supporting cast members. The weaknesses are with Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, Elizabeth Banks as a much-too-attractive Laura Bush, and Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell. But all that is besides the point.
W. is critic proof, or so I think? With the buzz its built, it should draw considerable crowds purely based on interest, although some polls seem to say otherwise. MovieTickets.com's weekly poll, which asked buyers if they planned on seeing W., had a shocking result - 63% said they were not planning on seeing it. Over on Fandango, W. only accounts for 12% of all early ticket sales, well below the 56% that are going towards High School Musical 3. Of those who had bought tickets, 67% said they want to see it because of Oliver Stone's reputation as a controversial filmmaker and 34% said they voted for George W. Bush in a previous election. If anything, that shows that republicans who may be Bush supporters in real life aren't too interested.
Initially I might speculate that because W. has built up quite a bit of buzz surrounding so many of its controversial aspects (casting, story, etc.), it could be a stronger contender for a big opening weekend. But it's a film with such a varied audience, that I really don't know if I can legitimately make that claim. Add our dwindling economy and and low attendance rates into the mix, and I'm even more worried. Will too many people perceive this as a novelty act (as I mentioned above) and push it aside until after the election? Or an even better question to ask - do moviegoers even look at this as a movie they must see? I have a good feeling most people get a kick out of talking about it, but they don't care to actually go see it, at least not in theaters.
To be completely honest, I'm entirely unsure of how to answer this question. I'd rather sit back and wait for the box office results to come in and analyze what happened afterwards. But I'm also too interested in the buzz that this has built to wait until that happens. Everyone is going to spend the rest of the day today reading reviews from critics everywhere. All of the them will say the same thing - that the film needed some additional work, but Josh Brolin's performance is top notch. I doubt that kind of criticism is going to help the movie, but I doubt it's going to hurt it either. But it could give it the final push it needs for audiences that last saw The Dark Knight to finally make it back out to their local movie theater.
I know I'll be patiently awaiting the box office results late in the evening on Friday. There's more at stake here than seeing whether Lionsgate made a good decision to buy the distribution rights. On top of all the questions surrounding the potential impact W. could have on the upcoming election, there is its political factor and controversial factor. Can a biopic about a president that is still in office actually do well financially? Will too many audience members perceive the film as a documentary on George W. Bush and not look at it as pure entertainment? There are too many questions and not enough answers. In due time we'll know the truth, but for now, this all just speculation - I think W. might flop this weekend.