‘Death of a President’ struggles to find exhibitor support

posted by Patrick Crowley on October 30, 2006 at 9:29 am

The new film “Death of a President”, which speculates what might happen if President Bush was assassinated, is having a difficult time finding theaters comfortable with the film’s subject matter:

Faux documentary Death of a President, which depicts the assassination of President George W. Bush, opened last Friday at less thatn 120 cinemas across the U.S. last week.

The nation’s two largest movie theatre operators deciding their viewers would not get the chance to see the film.

Regal Entertainment Group, the largest theatre operator in the U.S., led the way.

“We do not feel it is appropriate to portray the future assassination of a president,” said Regal’s Dick Westerling.

With AMC, the nation’s second-largest chain, and Cinemark, which owns Century Theatres, also lining up against Death of a President, the film has effectively been banned from at least 16,300 American movie screens.

The Adelaide Advertiser has the full report.

Comments (33)

Natalieland2006 on October 30, 2006 at 10:25 am

Well, you should not bring a president any bad luck. You certainly wouldn’t want to give people any bright ideas, except to keep the president from harm’s way. There are better productions to be seen. There are excellent plays like “CATS' to be viewed.

schmadrian on October 30, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Absolutely! Couldn’t agree more! I mean, really; isn’t it true that humans are only one card out of the deck away from lemmings?

Personally, I think we need a full review of ALL materials that even hint of anything…well, anything ‘bad’.

So let’s round up the graphic novels, the paperbacks, the video games, the television programmes, let’s take a look at song lyrics-

Oh, jeez; maybe we should just shut the entire ‘free expression’ thing down. Where on earth did they get the idea that any degree of self-directed thinking was any good for the collective? Hmm…?

Natalieland2006 on October 30, 2006 at 1:06 pm

Well, you should not bring a president any bad luck. You certainly wouldn’t want to give people any bright ideas, except to keep the president from harm’s way. There are better productions to be seen. There are excellent plays like ‘CATS’ to be viewed.
posted by Matt Daniels on Oct 30, 2006 at 10:25am

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 30, 2006 at 2:19 pm

First of all, who says this film portrays the “future assassination of a president”? Has it been proven that this film predicts future events? Is Criswel involved in the production? It is a fictional story, even though it uses an actual sitting President as a character in the plot. Would it be better to have a film about the assassination of a U.S. President if a fictitious name was used instead? That’s as absurd as dubbing or bleeping expletives on TV, when we all know what the characters are saying! I mean, should the name of the country be changed also? Perhaps the film should have been about an assassination on President of the United Territories of America. You know… sort of how films about a television network can’t use an actual network name as its subject, hence UBS in “Network” and NBS on the TV show “Live from Studio 60”.

Alto on October 30, 2006 at 2:22 pm

You have got to be kidding (twice)…

Matt Daniels – who are you…and what planet are you writing us from?

Natalieland2006 on October 30, 2006 at 2:26 pm

Earth. I corrected a computer and editing glitch. Enjoy whatever films suit you best. Have a nice day.

schmadrian on October 30, 2006 at 2:31 pm

Oh, poo.

Just when I thought we were actually going to have an engaging discussion.

Of course, if you want to see how little children deal with this topic, head over to the IMDb boards. Man, they must get their vitriol wholesale…

schmadrian on October 30, 2006 at 2:35 pm

That reminds me: “With AMC, the nation’s second-largest chain, and Cinemark, which owns Century Theatres, also lining up against Death of a President, the film has EFFECTIVELY BEEN BANNED from at least 16,300 American movie screens.”

So what’s the feeling about if ‘V for Vendetta’ had been set in the US? Would it have ever made it to the screen? And if not, what do you suppose it is about the UK that allowed it to be filmed and distributed there?

John Fink
John Fink on October 30, 2006 at 2:44 pm

This is an odd case: the film has gotten mixed reviews. On one hand I want to see it, on the other hand (from reading the reviews) it sounds like it’s not a well made movie. It sounds like a gemick to sell tickets (although some reviewers say its thoughtful). Perhaps the chains (and I hate censorship, by the way) didn’t think it was very good. The trailer doesn’t grab me, personally. Still I’d like to be able to make up my mind. The distribution is odd – really its playing at any theater that will show it, which are mostly small regional chains (Entertainment Cinemas, Cobb, Great Escape) – Angelika and Landmark are showing it too. If it received a wide release on over 400 or so screens I bet it would have done pretty well with people curious about it. I’d be interested in seeing its per screen average, but its worth noting that a cinema as liberal as the Angelika Film Center in New York is only showing it on one screen, and they are the only cinema in Manhatten showing it, then again their audience is mostly driven to see films by their reviews and in this case the reviews were mixed, at best.

longislandmovies on October 30, 2006 at 4:30 pm


BrooklynJim on October 30, 2006 at 5:35 pm

One reviewer indicated that the director chose to treat Georgie as a sympathetic character, not as a lying, power-grabbing monster. He also said the film had merit, a surprise to him.

Still, I believe I’ll pass on this one and re-watch Stone’s “JFK” – at least until the Dixie Chicks' “Shut Up and Sing” documentary opens in my area.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 30, 2006 at 8:40 pm

Hmmm… A film about my future and fictiional murder? Sure, why not? I’d probably have to throw a screening party for all my friends. It would certainly make for an interesting and unique conversation item! Now, the question is… how do I want to die? Sucked out of a plane at 30,000 feet like Goldfinger? That’d be cool. Maybe shot down from the top of the Empire State Building like King Kong! No, I got it… riding bronco atop a nuclear bomb like Colonel Kong in “Dr. Strangelove”… Hootin' and a-hollerin' the whole way down. Yeah… that’s the one.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 30, 2006 at 9:02 pm

So why don’t the distributors put together their own ad-hoc circuit of independent, small-chain, and usually-second-run theatres in order to show this film? Not everything has to go into Regal or AMC or Cinemark. A lot of second-run houses would jump at the chance to show a first run for a change.

longislandmovies on October 31, 2006 at 2:51 am

This is a great chance for an indi to show what kind of numbers they can do …….

schmadrian on October 31, 2006 at 2:57 am

Except…except that the subject matter is so patently unacceptable to many Americans.
So it’s more than just a quirky film lacking distribution.
Many, many feel this film should never have been made. Perdiod. They want it to go away.
What’s the upside to combatting that attitude with decent BO figures from what you propose?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 31, 2006 at 3:20 am

“See the film the RegalPlex refuses to show” is always good publicity and will bring in fans.

schmadrian on October 31, 2006 at 3:25 am

I agree.
But the backlash? From the reactionary front?
Is that worth it, when companies pull their advertising when something on a tv show is ‘contentious’?
I’d guess and say this is too hot an item.
If it wasn’t about a US president…if it was about the Pope…then there wouldn’t be the corporate turning-away.
I have been jarred by some of the opinions about the film…by those who have never seen it…regarding what amounts to freedom of speech.
Which brings me back to my previous question about ‘V for Vendetta’.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 31, 2006 at 3:29 am

It’s showing here at a Landmark theatre; I haven’t noticed any unfavorable consequences.

longislandmovies on October 31, 2006 at 3:34 am

Films should make you think ……..good bad ……….I would play it and i love George!

schmadrian on October 31, 2006 at 3:35 am

And you wouldn’t.
Because the energy is all on the front end. That is, with distribution, not exhibition.
A closed-mind won’t go see this.
But the chains don’t want to risk pissing-off all these closed-minds.
Pre-emptive decision-making. (And I’m being generous.)

longislandmovies on October 31, 2006 at 3:37 am

Schmadrian were you been …………thought you did not love us anymore…….

PeterApruzzese on October 31, 2006 at 6:40 am

In its first weekend, it did under $2000 per screen in 143 locations (most major markets). Those are not good numbers for a film with this kind of publicity. If it had any interest from the general public, it would have done over $5000 per screen.

IanJudge on October 31, 2006 at 7:15 pm

It did very weak business and got mixed reviews, so I know I will not be booking it. It seldom has to do with taste and is usually about money!

Any theater or chain certainly has the right to not play any movie, but I’ll agree that Regal, AMC, etc are grandstanding a little here – they certainly play plenty of objectionable material like slasher/horror films that could inspire violence against everyday people. One could make the argument that this film might inspire a threat against a public figure (who is of course already subject to countless threats) but I think it comes down to the fact that no chain is going to take a chance on a picture that isn’t going to make money for them. These chains do much of their business with middle america, a group that might object to such a controversial topic, especially during wartime.

You or I may or may not agree with this personally, but just as we choose to purchase certain goods based on our beliefs/opinions, the theaters do the same.

VincentPrice on November 2, 2006 at 3:06 pm

I suppose this topic is rather like Bill Maher having been seen wearing a Steve Irwin costume (complete with bloodied stingray stinger to the heart) during Halloween.

Sure, you can put it out there, and yes there are plenty of people who wouldn’t mind seeing it — but mostly likely, it oversteps the boundaries of good taste.

A bit like Lord Jeffrey Archer’s Who Shall Tell the President?, a fictionalised account of the death of “President” Edward M. Kennedy.

schmadrian on November 2, 2006 at 3:23 pm


Don’t agree at all. Sorry. Someone wearing a costume that’s a piss-take of an unfortunate death versus a speculative story dealing with how an assassination might be handled? Methinks I know which side of the fence you’re standing on.

This isn’t an example of hate-mongering. It’s speculative fiction, using a current president.

I agree that the chains, anyone involved with distribution has the right to decide what’s right for them, what they don’t feel uncomfortable with handling. I suppose for me, the situation raises more ‘general’ questions about free speech, about tolerance. And I doubt that the average person (American or not) really has a full understanding of what the overall concepts mean, how you cannot pick and choose what you feel should fall under the umbrella of ‘worth defending for the sake of free speech’. There are some very flinty examples of how hard it is to deal with something when it verges on ‘hate material’, but surely nobody with a rationale mind believes this film to such an animal. At least I’ve never heard anyone who’s seen it refer to it like that.

I get the impression that those who don’t like the idea or those who believe (and usually quite fervently) that it never should have been made…have never seen it. (And insist they never will.)

Isn’t it just a little bit ironic that in a nation born of dissent, that this aspect of free speech takes such a beating, and that there seem to be so many qualificaitons required for it to be deemed (by some) to be ‘appropriate’?

VincentPrice on November 2, 2006 at 3:31 pm

Schmadrian, your supposition of people not having seen this, and then having strong opinions, is at least wrong on my account. I am a film critic, got an advance copy, and watched it with the same dispassionate bias about the topic, as I would to any documentary.

That you have garnered some idea as to where I lie politically because I suggested people found this documentary in bad taste, is baffling.

Do you think people who watch “Capturing the Friedmans” must by necessity, be open-minded about paedophilia too?

VincentPrice on November 2, 2006 at 3:32 pm

Well, “mockumentary”.

schmadrian on November 2, 2006 at 3:43 pm


Apologies if I took this the wrong way: “Sure, you can put it out there, and yes there are plenty of people who wouldn’t mind seeing it — but mostly likely, it oversteps the boundaries of good taste.” I assumed you were connecting the Irwin bit with the film, therefore saying the film was effectively in ‘bad taste’. Sorry if I took that the wrong way. As for the assumption of your political views, the way you phrased your point didn’t lead me to believe you were proffering a clearly objective point of view, but if I’ve also taken this incorrectly, another apology is winging its way to you.

Interesting that you should raise the question of open-mindedness regarding the viewed material; I sat in an audience for ‘Little Children’ and I was actually creeped-out by the quite-obvious presence of men who- Well, I’ll stop right there, but let’s just say there was clearly an associative element in the story, if you get my drift.

But clearly, ‘most’ people do not go see films they have any suspicion are going to irritate or upset them. That’s not why most people plunk down their money. (I’m not talking about slasher/horror films and their patrons, obviously.) There’s usually some degree of assumed affinity with the material either in a genre sense or in tone. (Hence the backlash against the ‘definitely not a romantic comedy’ ‘The Breakup.)

VincentPrice on November 2, 2006 at 3:49 pm

I saw and hated “Running with Scissors”, but unlike most people, I say that having read Burroughs' book, and knowing full-well it was not a “comedy”, as it was advertised, same as the abysmal, The Break-Up.

Movie companies, their offshoots like theatre chains, have almost 100 years under their belt — they know what will appeal, or not, to any given audience.

Asking for this strange, cold, and may I say, ineffective mockumentary to be picked up, is not a question of freedom of speech.

It’s a question of knowing what will be watched in this competitive season of Children of Men, The Departed, Babel, etc. etc.

This mockumentary is perfect for the Sundance Channel. That’s about it.

schmadrian on November 2, 2006 at 3:58 pm

Not having seen it, I will bow to your insight as to its proper place in the market. (And yes, I’ll even go along with your point about the business decision regarding not picking it up.) But there’s a more compelling issue here that will, evidently, get lost in the shuffle.

Regarding ‘suitable’ arenas for films, having now seen ‘The Queen’, I can say that it never should have been brought to the big screen; tv would have sufficed.

And while I’m typing, my nomination for ‘Second Worst Case of False Advertising’ goes to ‘Man of the Year’. Shame on them all.

(Oh, and I didn’t get the impression ‘Scissors’ was a comedy, I’d never read the book, so I was impressed by the film.)

VincentPrice on November 2, 2006 at 4:06 pm

Well, this mockumentary actually started out already on TV (on the BBC) — I certainly hope people are aware of this.

Though there are some excellent tv-to-moviehouse stories out there, most notably the teleplay “12 Angry Men”, Death of a President isn’t one of them.

The Queen is perhaps in this league too, but for the superlative performances of Helen Mirren, and Michael Sheen (who IMHO, anchors the film).

Death of a President suffers not only from its rather listless presentation, but that it doesn’t have a name like Al Gore, or Michael Moore who can polarise people to watch it, both pro and con.

I suppose the pitiful revenue made by All The King’s Men, and similar documentaries this season, like the US v. John Lennon, didn’t help — rather than any wish to censor, even if by inference.

Anyhoodle, I think the topic has been exhausted. Whew.

schmadrian on November 2, 2006 at 4:16 pm

‘It ain’t exhausted until that rotund woman chimes in.’

Helen Mirren’s performance is summed-up by mute reaction shots. Yes, an intriguing impersonation. Best Performance in a Leading Role? Uh, no. Not by a long-shot. (And it’s very difficult to see any representation of the Royal Family without snickering if you’ve seen ‘The Royle Family’.)

‘All the King’s Men’ didn’t help ‘the cause’ by having such a poorly-written script.

And yes, I was aware ‘Death’ was on British tv first…but not the BBC. Channel 4.

VincentPrice on November 3, 2006 at 11:39 am

A propos to the Queen: If you’ve ever seen those made-for-television series about Diana this, or Charles-that, you’ll surely remember the abysmal characterisations of the present Queen, in them.

And this by well-rounded, and sometimes, very well-known actresses.

In no way could they have compared to the brilliance of transformation by Helen Mirren, in the Queen. It is precisely this kind of acting that separates a middling production for TV, to a feature film of this calibre. And let me again say that Michael Sheen’s performance (on the heels of his Kenneth Williams' one), was equally exceptional.

All the King’s Men suffered from too much hubris, too bad accents (the deadliest sin an actor can make, is not to make himself understood), and too bad directing. It was shambolic.

And yes, it was a C4 production. Thanks for the correction.

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