Michael Moore's film makes $21.8 million, the best-ever opening for a documentary

By Rachel F. Elson
Updated June 28, 2004 08:00 AM

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 has gone from heated to red-hot, as the film raked in $21.8 million and became the first-ever documentary to dominate Hollywood’s weekend box office on its debut weekend.

Fahrenheit’s weekend total was more than the total gross for Moore’s last film, 2002’s Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine – which at the time also broke box-office records for a documentary film with $21.6 million.

The controversial Fahrenheit, which draws connections between President Bush, Saudi businessmen and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, benefited from the embrace of left-wing groups, who mobilized movie goers to see the film during its opening weekend. Some observers compared the phenomenon to the grassroots campaign that brought movie goers by the thousands to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

At one point, Fahrenheit, which took the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, looked like it might not open at all. Shortly before Cannes, Moore blasted the film’s backer, the Walt Disney Co., for refusing to allow its Miramax subsidiary to release the film.

Miramax execs Harvey and Bob Weinstein ultimately bought back the rights to the film from Disney and arranged for independent distribution through Lions Gate Films and IFC.

Meanwhile, conservative groups have asked the Federal Election Commission to examine ads for the film, citing campaign-finance laws that regulate the use of images of presidential candidate.

Following Fahrenheit in second place this weekend was the slightly less controversial White Chicks, starring Shawn and Marlon Wayans. The film pulled in $19.6 million, pushing last week’s top movie, Dodgeball, down to third place.

The weekend’s Top 10 movies, according to box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, are as follows:

1. Fahrenheit 9/11, $21.8 million
2. White Chicks, $19.6 million
3. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, $18.5 million
4. The Terminal, $13.9 million
5. The Notebook, $13 million
6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, $11.4 million
7. Shrek 2, $10.5 million
8. Garfield: The Movie, $7 million
9. Two Brothers, $6.2 million
10. The Stepford Wives, $5.2 million