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Bella to Anti-War Movies: Show Me the Money!

You won't see this fun movie fact in any mainstream media outlets, but the little pro-life movie Bella, which just opened, beat the socks off of several anti-war/anti-American movies in opening weekend per-theater revenues. 


This despite the fact that Bella was panned by critics in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Variety and other mainstream outlets. (For an interesting article on how movie critics inject their politics into reviews, click here.)


Here's the breakdown.  Bella opened with a limited release, meaning it was only shown in 165 theaters, according to the Web site Boxofficemojo.com.   It grossed $1,324,000 or roughly $8,024 per theater.


Compare this to the recent opening weekends for three anti-war movies: Valley of Elah, Rendition, and The KingdomValley of Elah opened in 762 theaters and grossed $1,512,310 or $1,984 per theatre.  Rendition opened in 2,250 theaters, and grossed $4,060,012 or $1,804 per theatre.  The über violent The Kingdom opened in 2,793 theatres and grossed $17,135,055 or $6,135 per theater.


Now consider this interesting tidbit.  Bella, which won the Toronto Film Festival's coveted People's Choice Award in 2006, opened on the same weekend (the weekend before Halloween, mind you) as Saw IV, the fourth in the “most successful horror movie franchise ever,” according to The Washington Post.  The heavily marketed Saw IV opened in 3,183 theaters, and grossed $32,110,000, for a per theater average of $10,088.  It beat Bella, but not by much.


So what is to be made of little Bella's success, or the failure of anti-war movies to find an audience?  To listen to the mainstream media tell it, the anti-war movies' performances disappointed because “people need perspective.”  On the October 28 broadcast of ABC's World News Sunday, anchor Dan Harris reported on the “unprecedented” and “controversial” number of anti-war movies that are parading into theaters.  Harris reported that the films now in release have “struggled to get an audience,” and he invited Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers to tell the viewers why. Harris then chimed in with his own two cents worth:


TRAVERS: People need perspective. To stand back to say, “Who were we during these years?” It's so close and so wrong.


HARRIS: Polls show most Americans now agree the war was not worth fighting.  At least at this point they don't need Hollywood to confirm their opinion.


As to Bella's success? There wasn't much news about it.  BoxOfficeMojo.com ran an interesting compare and contrast: “Among expansions, The Darjeeling Limited rolled out nationwide to 698 venues but mustered a measly estimated $1.7 million, which was significantly less than the wide launches of director Wes Anderson's previous movies. Also soft was Lars and the Real Girl, which had its major expansion on the same weekend of the similarly-titled Dan in Real Life, with an estimated $952,000 at 296 locations.  Faring much better relatively speaking was independent release Bella, a drama targeted to an estimated $1.3 million at 165 sites.”


Hollywood pays attention to box office numbers.  Given that this little independent, pro-life movie did better than many major players, will it get an “expansion” too?


Tune in next week to find out.


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.