'Lincoln' Film: Steven Spielberg Period Political Drama Far Surpasses Expectations

Lincoln film Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln: Serious Steven SpielbergLincoln film with Daniel Day-Lewis. Initially known as a filmmaker whose target audience consisted of children, teenagers, and assorted movie-thrill seekers, Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost ArkE.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) began expanding his range with the highly successful melodrama The Color Purple (1985). Since then, Spielberg has mixed commercial fluff/thrill rides (Always, Hook, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) with generally well-received, serious-minded fare (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, War Horse). His latest belongs to the latter group.

'Lincoln' film box office: Stronger than expected debut

On the Nov. 9–11 weekend, Steven Spielberg's eagerly awaited Lincoln film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th U.S. president, opened with a remarkable $944,308 at 11 North American locations. Its per-theater average was $85,846, the 23rd highest ever – or rather, since 1982 and not factoring in inflation.

At boxofficemojo.com, it's found on the “highest per-theater average” chart (i.e., post-1982) sandwiched between Tom Hooper's eventual Best Picture Oscar winner The King's Speech ($88,863 in 2010), starring Colin Firth, and Rob Marshall's Kyoto-set period drama Memoirs of a Geisha ($85,313 in 2005), starring Ziyi Zhang.

Spielberg's period political drama is also quite a bit ahead of Stephen Gaghan's current (2005) political drama Syriana ($74,900), featuring George Clooney and Matt Damon.

Trailing 'Platoon'?

Adjusted for inflation, Lincoln enjoyed a still-remarkable – though somewhat less impressive – opening: it's no. 56* on the all-time chart, sandwiched between Oliver Stone's eventual Best Picture Oscar winner Platoon ($85,992 in 1986) and Davis Guggenheim's eventual Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth ($85,257 in 2006).

Now, Platoon and An Inconvenient Truth opened at, respectively, six and four locations. Remember, all things being equal, the fewer the number of theaters, the higher the per-theater average should be. (It should be noted that the number of available seats per theater is unknown.)

In terms of inflation-adjusted box office performance in relation to the number of theaters, a more apt comparison would thus be Jason Reitman's eventual Best Picture Oscar nominee Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, which averaged $82,178 at 15 venues in early December 2009.

* Curiously, Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted per-theater averages don't seem to reflect box office actuals, but the adjusted amount based on weekend estimates.

How far will Spielberg's political drama go?

Up in the Air went on to gross a solid – though hardly blockbustery – $82.83 million domestically – or (approx.) an inflation-adjusted $85 million. But to expect Spielberg's Lincoln film to follow a similar trajectory to that of Reitman's modern-day, socially conscious comedy-drama would be foolish as the two efforts have radically different themes and star attractions.

Better comparisons would be a couple of Oscar-winning political dramas about historical leaders played by actors who were not box office draws:

  • Richard Attenborough's Gandhi (1982), starring Ben Kingsley, cumed at an adjusted $133 million.
  • Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987), starring John Lone, cumed at $85 million.

For the record, Daniel Day-Lewis' most recent two movies failed to crack the $50 million mark in the domestic market:

  • Rob Marshall's big-budget, all-star musical Nine (2009) cumed at a paltry $19.67 million.
  • Paul Thomas Anderson's drama There Will Be Blood (2007), which earned Day-Lewis that year's Best Actor Academy Award, took in $40.22 million.

And then there's Rebecca Miller's indie The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005), which topped at a measly $712,275.

Lincoln Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln: Nothing like Abraham's real-life wifeLincoln film with Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, Steven Spielberg's period political drama focuses on the U.S. president's efforts to ensure that the House of Representatives would approve the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A secondary figure in both the historical drama and in U.S. history, Mary Todd Lincoln was the president's wife; veteran Sally Field, who looks nothing like the real-life Mary Todd, plays her in the film – a role that, albeit minor, could eventually earn Field a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.[1]

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire competitor

The mainstream appeal of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln film will be put to the test next weekend. Next Friday, it'll expand to 1,500 U.S. and Canadian venues.

Competition from Bill Condon's The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, starring Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner, should not affect the box office performance of the adult-oriented political drama.

Whereas Twilight moviegoers tend to be very young and very female, according to reports Lincoln's first-weekend audience consisted mostly (67 percent) of those over 35, skewing male (55 percent).

Spring 2013 update: Largely thanks to enthusiastic reviews, plenty of awards season buzz, and a Best Actor Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln film far surpassed expectations in the domestic market, ultimately cuming at $182.2 million.

As expected, the political drama about a pivotal time in U.S. history had a much weaker pull internationally, collecting a respectable though hardly outstanding $93.08 million, as per figures found at Box Office Mojo.

'Lincoln' film cast

In addition to two-time Best Actor Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, 1989; There Will Be Blood, 2007), the prestigious, male-dominated cast of Spielberg's Lincoln film includes the following:

Two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Sally Field (Norma Rae, 1979; Places in the Heart, 1984) as Mary Todd Lincoln.

Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive, 1993) as Thaddeus Stevens, U.S. House of Representatives member from Pennsylvania.

Best Actor Oscar nominee David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck., 2005).

Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild, 2007).

Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee John Hawkes (Winter's Bone, 2010).

Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children, 2006).

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. James Spader. Lee Pace. Tim Blake Nelson. Jared Harris. Joseph Cross. Bruce McGill. Michael Stuhlbarg.

Tony Kushner was credited for the screenplay based on several segments found in Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

Strong reviews and early Oscar buzz have surely helped the domestic box office performance of this historical drama about U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's fight to put an end to slavery in the United States. The film currently boasts a 94 percent approval rating and 8.4/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics.

Mary Todd Lincoln actresses

[1] Previous big- and small-screen portrayers of the 16th U.S. president's wife include:

  • Kay Hammond† (Abraham Lincoln, 1930).
  • Leila McIntyre (The PlainsmanThe Prisoner of Shark Island, both 1936 releases).
  • Marjorie Weaver (while still known as Mary Todd in Young Mr. Lincoln, 1939).
  • Ruth Gordon (Abe Lincoln in Illinois, 1940).
  • Sada Thompson (Lincoln, 1974–1976, TV).
  • Julie Harris (The Last of Mrs. Lincoln, 1976, TV).
  • Mary Tyler Moore (Lincoln, 1988, TV).
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, 2012).

† This American actress is not to be confused with the better-known British stage and film actress featured in Sleeping Car and Blithe Spirit.

Check out the Lincoln film's trailer (HD).

See also: “Domestic Box Office Bomb: Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly Is Brad Pitt's Worst Wide Debut Ever” & “Worldwide Box Office Blockbuster: Most Successful James Bond Movie Ever Made?”


Images of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln and Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln: DreamWorks / Walt Disney Studios.

Lincoln Film: Steven Spielberg Period Political Drama Far Surpasses Expectations” last updated in July 2018.

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2 Comments to 'Lincoln' Film: Steven Spielberg Period Political Drama Far Surpasses Expectations


    The movie is a great story about an american president that let GOD lead him in abolishing slavery.Daniel Day Lewis will go down in history as the best lincoln ever.This film will win multiple oscar nominations.I am very thankful to have a bit part in this extraordinary story.Steven Spielberg is the greatest visionary of our time.Thank you Mr Spielberg for bringing a great president to life. THOMAS WINSTON

  2. baptiste

    in other words this movie will take the gas when it releases wide or just go straight to on demand. Daniel Day Lewis is sooooo good again just give him the statue now. His new sequel is My right thigh.