The movie only brought in US$3.2 million last weekend in North America, putting it in an eighth-place ranking overall — far lower than anticipated.
In an environment of political upheaval, with left- and right-wing parties at each other’s throats and a nation grappling with its presidential situation, Moore’s latest was expected to stoke fires on both sides. As made clear by the drastically low attendance in theatres, it didn’t come close. Why?
There are a few theories about why Fahrenheit 11/9 didn’t hit the mark.
Donald Trump fatigue
TV has become a non-stop Donald Trump machine. At any given hour, his is the face you’re going to see on the screen. It’s understandable, then, that audiences don’t want to spend two hours in a theatre when they can see the ongoing political drama at any time at home.
Interestingly, the movie spends more time looking at how Trump came to power rather than Trump himself, so it’s more of a political commentary than a profile of the man.
Moore’s movies have a certain thread to them; the controversial filmmaker has a penchant for going after the bully. He is relentless, and in his quest for “truth,” even turns into a bully himself at times. Moore is clearly a left-wing supporter and his targets are almost always right wing, so an entire audience is alienated right off the bat. People on the Democratic side of things may dismiss it outright because the movie offers nothing they haven’t seen before.
A decline in popularity
Moore reached his peak with 2002’s Bowling for Columbine, a documentary about a rise in gun violence in the U.S. It won the Academy Award for best documentary, and launched Moore into superstar status. From there, his popularity slowly declined, and his movies’ box-office performances are an indicator of that.
His 2004 Columbine follow-up, Fahrenheit 9/11, grossed $178 million, and in 2007 his critique of the U.S. health-care system brought in $33 million. 2009’s Capitalism: A Love Story fell by nearly half, bringing in just $17.5 million, and then his 2016 doc Where to Invade Next made a comparatively paltry $4.1 million.
WATCH BELOW: Michael Moore talks to Stephen Colbert about documentary ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’
Everyone’s a critic
When Moore started making these documentaries (Roger & Me, his first, was shot and released in the late 1980s), the internet didn’t exist and filmmaking amateurs didn’t have access to a public platform to showcase their wares. As such, Moore’s brand of resistance was an original approach until everyone else started emulating it. There are countless documentary filmmakers and protesters now, and Moore is just one face among millions.
In addition, the 24-hour news cycle has sapped a lot of energy from Moore’s sails. By the time the film hit theatres, the majority of the movie’s revelations have already been shared with the world, ad nauseam. It’s not to say that Moore’s individual spin isn’t worth watching, but it’s now just another voice in the echo chamber of public discourse.
It could also be something as simple as the world has had enough bad news. In any case, Moore may have to think up a new approach for his next movie.