NYTimes.com Article: Two Americas of 'Fahrenheit' and 'Passion'

July 13, 2004

LOS ANGELES, July 12 - The two most surprising hit movies of 2004 - Michael Moore's Bush-bashing documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" and Mel Gibson's religious epic "The Passion of the Christ" - offer an intriguing opportunity to examine the polarities among moviegoing Americans.

Nielsen EDI Inc., which tracks ticket sales, compiled data showing the 50 theaters around the country where each film earned the most money. Both movies have been wildly successful: "Passion" is the year's top-grossing film, with $609 million in worldwide ticket sales since its February release, and "Fahrenheit" is the most popular feature-length documentary ever, with sales in North America of $80.1 million (the film is just beginning its international run) in just three weeks. But the data show a sharp geographical divide in the films' popularity.

The top theaters for "Fahrenheit" have been in urban, traditionally Democratic strongholds, including Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the Bay Area, Chicago and Boston.

The highest grossing theaters for "Passion" were typically more suburban and far more widely dispersed, from Texas and New Mexico to Ohio, Florida and Orange County, Calif.

For "The Passion," the rankings reflect the film's full run. For "Fahrenheit," the data include only the first two weeks of ticket receipts. Nielsen experts said that there was little difference in the theater rankings for "Passion" between the first two weeks of release and the full run.

For both films, the top theater was Empire 25 in Times Square, and theaters in Greenwich Village and West Nyack, N.Y., were in the top 50. But even in the New York metropolitan area, the ticket buyers' profiles make for sharp contrasts.

The area's other top theaters for "Passion" were in Elizabeth, N.J., and in Whitestone and Astoria, Queens. For "Fahrenheit" the other top local theaters were on the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side and in Midtown Manhattan.

After the opening weekend of "Fahrenheit 9/11," Mr. Moore declared that it was a "red-state movie," referring to states that voted Republican in the 2000 election. The numbers on top theaters do little to support the claim, but "Fahrenheit" did sell out some movie houses in Republican-leaning states and military towns, including Fayetteville, N.C., and Oklahoma City.


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