On June 28, a couple of days after Fahrenheit 9/11’s premiere, Moore spoke to thousands of people via an Internet hookup at “Turn Up the Heat: A National Town Meeting on Fahrenheit 9/11,” organized by MoveOn. “It was the number-one movie in every single red state in America,” Moore said, as cheers went up in the room in which I was watching with about two hundred MoveOn supporters. “Every single state that Bush won in 2000, it was the number-one film in it.” The news seemed ominous for the president; a real sense of excitement and hope filled the room. “I’m sure when the White House read that this morning, that was one of their worst nightmares come true," Moore said.
Calling Fahrenheit 9/11 “a shaping force in the presidential campaign,” Time wrote that the film was attracting “the curious, the hostile, the indifferent. . . . [Moore is] doing what he does best — pestering — to get them into theaters. And then to the polls.”
The 'broad appeal' of this film was made moot, emphatically, on Election Day. As it turns out, Michael Moore and Moveon.org was trying to hype the movie into becoming an anti-Bush catalyzing force instead of a mockumentary with limited blue-state appeal.
But was that really true? Certainly the picture had a spectacular opening weekend for a documentary. But Moore always claimed a special status for the movie, that it was much more than a documentary...And as a film phenomenon, Fahrenheit 9/11’s opening was not nearly as spectacular as Moore claimed.
...In the end, Fahrenheit 9/11 had the 32nd-best opening weekend of 2004, taking in $23,920,637 in its first days.
...Motion picture companies keep track of ticket sales data in excruciating detail. For any given movie, they know who bought tickets, where, and why. They do research not just on a national basis, or a market-by-market basis, or a city-by-city basis, but on a screen-by-screen basis.
Overall, Fahrenheit 9/11 did extremely well in North America’s top eight markets, according to the numbers compiled by Nielsen EDI. The film actually underperformed slightly in the largest market, Los Angeles, down just under 4 percent from the market’s normal DMA share. But it overperformed in the next seven largest markets. In New York it overperformed by nearly 43 percent; Fahrenheit 9/11 took in 11.12 percent of its total box office in that city alone. It did even better in San Francisco, overperforming by 73 percent, and did above-normal business in Chicago, Toronto (by 79 percent), Philadelphia, Boston (by 49 percent), and Washington DC (by 62 percent).
Fahrenheit 9/11 also did well in Seattle, Montreal, Ottawa, Portland, Oregon, Monterey, California, and Burlington, Vermont. In all, two things stand out from those numbers. One is that the picture overperformed only in blue states, and even then only in the most urban parts of those blue states. And the second is that it did very well in Canada. Fahrenheit 9/11 consistently overperformed in Canadian cities; without that boffo business, the film’s gross would have been significantly smaller than it was.
That’s the upside of the story. The downside revealed by the Nielsen EDI numbers is that Fahrenheit 9/11, far from being the runaway nationwide hit that Moore claimed, underperformed in dozens of markets throughout red states and, most important — as far as the presidential election was concerned — swing states. Dallas/Fort Worth, the ninth-largest movie market, accounts for 2.07 percent of North American box office but made up just 1.21 percent of Fahrenheit 9/11 box office, for an underperformance of nearly 42 percent. In Phoenix, the tenth-largest market, Fahrenheit 9/11 underperformed by 29 percent. In Houston, ranked twelfth for movies, it underperformed by 38 percent. In Orlando, it underperformed by 38 percent; Tampa-St. Petersburg, by 41 percent; Salt Lake City, by 61 percent.
The list goes on for quite a while: Las Vegas, Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, Norfolk, Charlotte, Nashville, Memphis, Jacksonville, Flint, Michigan (Michael Moore's home turf), and many others. And in Fayetteville and Tulsa, where Moore boasted that his movie had sold out, Fahrenheit 9/11 underperformed by 41 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
In the end, Fahrenheit 9/11 was an excellently crafted piece of propaganda with limited appeal that will end up on the $5.99 bin at Wal-Mart stores nationwide.