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Remember Won't Back Down?

If you don't, don't feel bad; it's been two weeks since it came out in theaters, with heavy backing from anti-union and anti-public education groups, to bad reviews and historically bad box office numbers.  (A quick estimate from those numbers would indicate about 600,000 viewers nationally total over the last two weeks.  On Wednesday and Thursday, it averaged roughly one attendee per show nationally, which at least probably made it easy to sleep if you happened to be the one viewer.)

Usually when this happens, two things occur after two weeks:  one, theatres dump the film for something (anything) that'll draw better, and two, the studio moves on to planning for its release on DVD or cable or streaming or whatever can get people to see this dud.

(More after the orange puff pastry...)

However, Won't Back Down isn't an ordinary film.  At heart, it's really political propaganda designed to change minds; making money would be nice, but apparently that isn't happening, so apparently Phil Anschutz and Walden Media (and the releasing folks at Fox) needed a new strategy.  (Both are big opponents of teachers unions, which is why they financed this in the first place.)

When you've got a product that won't sell, there are usually two ways to help it sell (besides improving the product, which misses the point):  discount it or advertise the hell out of it.  And Anschutz is doing both.

I expect to see certain things in the local paper's Friday A&E section; what I did not expect to see was a half-page ad for Won't Back Down.  (The equivalent of a quarter-page one in a regular section, and the film had one of those in today's paper.)  Must have cost several thousand dollars each.

The ad features two quotes, one from the Wall Street Journal (towards the end of the second paragraph) and one from the New York Post.  You'll notice if you click them that neither's from a review; both are editorials about the film.  (Rupert Murdoch owns both papers; enough said.  Oh, and a tip to the Post:  there currently isn't an Oscar for Best Picture that Annoys Randi Weingarten.  Nice try.)

To increase interest even further, Regal Cinemas made a big announcement to the media and at the bottom of those big ads:  Regal Crown Club members can buy one ticket and get another one free.  

I suspect they were hoping for major publicity on that; maybe they're getting it through word of mouth, because I could only find one mention of the offer aside from the original press release on Google (take a bow, Riverside Press-Enterprise).

They also advertised the buy-one-get-one as a "Regal Exclusive".  No surprise there; Regal and Walden Media are both owned by Phil Anschutz.  (Besides, any other theaters run by anyone smarter than a brick dumped the film as soon as they could.)

So, big ads, big discounts, big draw, right?  One hitch in the plan:  theater managers.  Regal may own the theaters, but there are individual managers in each theater, and if managers know anything, they know this:  duds don't make money, at the box office or, more importantly, at the concession stand.  And while the national chain (most likely) said they had to keep the film, they didn't say how often they had to show it.

Therefore, my plan to see how many people showed up tonight when I saw another film (and then sneak in for a quick count) was foiled when I found out that out of the dozen theaters in the Portland area showing it, eleven are showing the film once per day at an early matinee (and the other is showing it once at a late-night show).  Checking other cities showed the same story in most theaters; there are a brave/extremely dim few showing it all day here and there, but they're very much the exception.  So the national ad campaign and big money is being spent on a film that's barely showing in any theatres in the evenings, and in some cities, barely showing much at all (Minneapolis/St. Paul listings show two matinee shows in the entire metro area).

What to make of all this effort on the part of anti-union rich conservatives to sell a film the public (and their own company's theater managers!) clearly has no interest in buying?  It's probably best summed up by Samuel Goldwyn, who produced his share of both hits and duds, and once said "If people don't want to go to the picture, nobody can stop them."  Something for Phil to keep in mind before producing "Won't Back Down II:  Charter School Boogaloo".

UPDATE 12:45pm 10/14:  National estimate for box office for this weekend is...$126,000.  If you assume an average of eight bucks a ticket, and that everyone brought someone for free, that comes out to approximately 31,500 people nationally this weekend.  Probably not even enough to cover the cost of the full page ad in the Los Angeles Times that egghead mentioned below.  As the old saying goes, they stayed away in droves...

Originally posted to noplot on Sat Oct 13, 2012 at 05:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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