Over the past week or so, I’ve heard from family and friends who’ve been unable to see Lincoln because of sold-out theaters. Color me four-score surprised.
These days, big box office usually means vertigo-inducing special effects or interchangeable plotlines. Instead, a talky, transformative historical drama about our 16th president and the 13th Amendment is keeping the seats warm at the cineplex.
Without killing a single vampire, Lincoln is suddenly a tough ticket. Maybe there is hope for democracy.
For the pop culture-impaired, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, released in June, has the Great Emancipator beheading the undead with an ax. (Guess it was more fun than splitting rails.) Ironically, Vampire was distributed by the same studio—Fox—that is handling Lincoln.
While Vampire flopped, domestically, Lincoln, is transcending industry projections. It grossed $34 million over the weekend, bringing its total to $62 million since opening Nov. 9th in a handful of cities. It went into wide release a week later.
I was fortunate to have seen Lincoln before the long lines, at a media screening. I left a happy camper, proclaiming my emancipation from crappy movies. For the first time in recent memory, a film had not only lived up to its hype, but had exceeded it. In a word, Lincoln was stunning.
Producer-director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Tony Kushner and star Daniel Day-Lewis are all being seriously mentioned as potential Oscar winners. (Well, at least until Christmas Day, when Les Mis hits the big screens. Then all bets are off.)
Still, plenty of great films end up as box-office roadkill, despite near-rhapsodic reviews. What is it about Lincoln that resonates with so many? To me, much of it has to do with brilliant timing on Fox’s part.
By releasing Lincoln in November, the studio has been able to capitalize on the public’s post-election recovery from a vicious presidential campaign that focused on leadership. Lincoln, about a man whom many consider our greatest commander-in-chief, serves as an appealing antidote.
Also, with the Fiscal Cliff looming, many Americans want to see, and take hope in, how Lincoln masterfully dealt with a larger crisis in 1865—getting the bitterly divided House of Representatives to pass the 13th Amendment that would abolish slavery before the Civil War’s expected end, within a month.
In some ways, it was heartwarming to learn that lobbyists were just as smarmy back then, and that strong-arming is strong-arming, regardless of who’s occupying the Oval Office. Sometimes greatness requires a president to whup ass for the good of the country.
Three cheers for Lincoln. Three cheers for Lincoln. I’m ready to see it again. This time, I’ll reserve my ticket online.