First there was Michael Moore’s election-year documentary poking an indignant finger at George W. Bush.
Four years later came the Citizens United film that took a scathing look at Hillary Clinton’s scandals.
Now playing in 1,800 theaters near you: the movie that makers claim the Obama administration doesn’t want you to see — “2016: Obama’s America.”
The new conservative film was written and directed by former Reagan administration staffer and Kings College president Dinesh D’Souza. The documentary, based on books D’Souza wrote and timed for release around the national political conventions, traces Obama’s roots by traveling to Kenya, Indonesia and Hawaii.
“Love him. Hate him. You don’t know him,” proclaims the poster marketing the film.
Already shadowed by controversy over its accuracy and bashed by Democrats, the movie grossed $6.5 million and finished No. 7 last weekend at the box office.
But coming on the heels of the Republican convention, some movie experts predict it’s positioned to move up to No. 1 at the box office this weekend.
“In what is admittedly a weak period for box office, it’s performing quite nicely,” said Keith Simanton, managing editor of IMDb, a national online database that tracks movies and television programs.
The movie examines how President Barack Obama adopted what its makers suggest were the anti-colonial views of his absentee father in pursuing leftist policies that are allegedly hurting the country.
Yet the movie, while clearly critical of Obama, isn’t intended as a campaign tool to help defeat the president, said John Sullivan, one of the movie’s three executive producers, including one who helped make the Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List.”
“There is no advocacy for any candidate,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got a perspective we think you should know about. Take this information. Do with it what you want. ”
Although it’s also getting a boost from conservative talk radio, the movie is still far from breaking records for a political documentary.
The highest grossing political documentary was Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” in 2004. “Fahrenheit,” sharply critical of the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks, grossed $119.1 million.
The Obama movie so far has grossed $9.3 million, good enough for sixth place on the all-time political documentary chart, according to Box Office Mojo.
The Obama campaign, as might be expected, views the movie as a partisan shot based on a book that has been criticized by reviewers from different political perspectives.
“This movie is complete fiction and rooted in lies, distortions and conspiracy theories about the president rather than facts,” a campaign spokesman said.
Love the new Obama movie or hate it, don’t expect it to change the minds of any undecided voters, said Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka.
Many undecided voters don’t like politics, he said, so it’s hard to expect them to drop $10 on a political documentary instead of “The Expendables 2.”
“That’s why we have political ads. You don’t have to leave your couch to view it,” Beatty said. “For a political movie, you’re having to get off your couchand
you’re paying to see it. You’re actually opening up your wallet.”
However, Beatty said a political movie might have a more indirect effect, perhaps firing up people who already favor a candidate and spurring them to get out and work for a campaign or make a donation.
Todd Tiahrt of Wichita, a Republican and a former congressman, said he hopes the movie will expose Obama.
“I think it’s going to open a lot of people’s eyes,” Tiahrt said. “As the title says love him or hate him, you don’t know him. And it’s true.”
While the Obama movie has been widely panned by movie critics — Rotten Tomatoes reported that only 35 percent of media critics gave the movie a thumbs up — it gets unabashed support from people who already distrust the president.
“He’s just not truthful, and I think the movie brought some of that out,” said Melanie Dellarco of Olathe after seeing a matinee last week.
The movie got some buzz at the recently concluded Republican convention, where producer Sullivan spent time pitching the film and showing it to delegates.
Brad Dool, chairman of the Sedgwick County Republican Party, saw the movie in Tampa.
“Even though Obama has said he didn’t really know his father, he yearned to adopt the ways of his father,” Dool said. “The fact is that he has a radically different view of what is right for society than we have.”
But movie critics haven’t been as kind.
One called it an “unsubstantiated act of character assassination.”
Another called it “sluggish,” adding that “even its outrage falls flat.”
And just how much of the 89-minute movie should moviegoers accept as fact?
The Associated Press recently picked it apart, questioning even the basic premise that Obama’s largely absentee father could have had so much influence on his son.
While Obama’s father left him at 2 and then visited him again at 10, it’s “difficult to see how Obama’s political leanings could have been so directly shaped by his father, as D’Souza claims,” the AP said.
But some who attended a recent matinee in Olathe weren’t buying the criticisms.
Neil Sickendick of Overland Park said he thought the movie helped explain what’s behind the president’s policies.
“I think he did a good job of laying out his reasons and provided good evidence why he believes them,” Sickendick said.