By Phil Contrino
While the Democrats rally in Denver this week for their National Convention, both Lionsgate and Universal are busy figuring out how to convince the moviegoing public to lay their money down to see two presidents on the bigscreen, George W. Bush and Richard Nixon.
This fall, while televisions across the country are tuned in to John McCain and Barack Obama squaring off to be the next President, movie theatres will be playing Oliver Stone's W. and Ron Howard's film adaptation of Frost/Nixon.
Yesterday, the trailer for Frost/Nixon made it's official debut online only a couple of days after behind-the-scenes footage was released of Josh Brolin's performance as George W. Bush.
With W. set to hit theatres on October 17 and Frost/Nixon due out Decemeber 5, the two films will not be in direct competition with each other at the box office. However, it is not hard to imagine Brolin squaring off against Frank Langella's Nixon for Best Actor recognition when Oscar season rolls around.
Yet whether or not either film has strong commercial potential is still very much in the air. While W. boasts an all-star cast, many moviegoers may feel that Stone chose to tackle the life of George W. Bush too soon. In addition, Stone's Nixon biopic, which starred Anthony Hopkins in the title role, landed with a thud in 1995 and was able to gross only $13.7 million domestically.
The failure of Stone's Nixon also brings up the point that the thirty-seventh President of the United States hasn't exactly been the biggest box office draw. The 1999 comedy Dick, in which Dan Hedaya took on the title role, grossed a paltry $6.24 million domestically. In 2004, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, which starred Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, failed to capitalize on Nixon's infamy and wasn't able to cross the $1 million mark domestically.
Jeffrey Ressner, a Staff Writer for Politico who covers the intersection between Hollywood and Washington, remains cautiously optimistic about the potential for both films.
"It's going to boil down to whether the movies are really good and whether people want to see that kind of serious subject matter after going through a long primary and a hard fought election battle," said Ressner.
"I think they're going to appeal to a much different audience than most movies. But I think for people in their 40's and 50's, who are looking for something smart to see on a Friday night, these two movies will play really well."
Ressner also acknowledges the hurdles that both Lionsgate and Universal will have to clear when selling their films.
"Both are going to appeal to art-house audiences. I don't think you're going to get the
crowds out for either film," said Ressner. "It's going to cost a lot to market these movies and I think that's really going to be where word of mouth and free media will help out a lot."