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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Politics and the Box Office

The movies are a political medium. Sometimes Hollywood figures also make political statements on their own time, and apparently there is an impact on the box office. Prompted by Morgan Freeman's attack on the tea party, The Hollywood Reporter notes:

In a far-ranging poll Penn Schoen Berland conducted for The Hollywood Reporter of 1,000 registered voters to gauge moviegoing tendencies of Democrats vs. Republicans, it's clear political allegiances have shifted entertainment viewing habits. Jon Penn, the firm's president of media and entertainment research, says that before Freeman's words, interest in Dolphin Tale was considerably higher among conservatives and religious moviegoers than among liberals. After the remarks, 34 percent of the conservatives who were aware of them, and 37 percent of Tea Partiers, said they were less likely to see the film -- but 42 percent of liberals said they were more likely. (Five days after Freeman's remarks, 24 percent of all moviegoers were aware of them.)

In fact, overall, 35 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Tea Partiers consider a celebrity's political position before paying to see their films, compared with 20 percent of Democrats.

Many exhibitors say privately that they cringe when a star waxes politically just before one of their movies opens -- like when, seven weeks before Contagion, Matt Damon attended a Save Our Schools march where some attendees compared Republicans to "terrorists." Videos of Damon mocking conservatives for their fiscal policies spread like wildfire on the Internet.

"Of course it impacts box office," says Landmark Theatres owner Mark Cuban. "You just hope that for every member of one party that no-shows because of comments, another buys a ticket for the same reason."

As with all survey data about political behavior, there is reason to take the findings with a little skepticism. First of all, people typically do not see a movie simply on the basis of one of its cast members. The presence of a beloved actor such as Tom Hanks does not guarantee success, and the presence of a controversial performer does not mean failure.

To the average moviegoer, Morgan Freeman is not the guy who says silly things about the tea party. He's The Guy Who Sounds Like God.

Dolphin Tale appeals to children. If kids beg to see it, will parents really say no just because they don't like Morgan Freeman's politics?