Los Angeles "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore's assault on President Bush, took in $8.2 million to $8.4 million in its first day, positioning it as the weekend's No. 1 film, its distributors said Saturday.
Based on Friday's numbers, "Fahrenheit 9/11" was on track for an opening weekend that would surpass the $21.6 million total gross of Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," his 2002 film that earned him an Academy Award for best documentary.
"Bowling for Columbine" holds the record for highest domestic gross among documentaries, excluding concert films and movies made for huge-screen IMAX theaters.
Friday grosses for "Fahrenheit 9/11" ran about $1.5 million ahead of its closest competitor, the Wayans brothers comedy "White Chicks." The performance of "Fahrenheit 9/11" was even more remarkable considering it played in just 868 theaters, fewer than a third the number for "White Chicks."
"Fahrenheit 9/11" benefited from a flurry of praise and condemnation. Supporters mobilized liberal-minded audiences to see it over opening weekend to counter efforts by some right-wing groups to discredit it.
"It always helps when there's a group out there that says, 'Don't go see this movie. It's bad for you,"' said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Films, one of the film's distributors.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" paints Bush as a neglectful president who ignored terrorism warnings before Sept. 11, then stirred up fear of more attacks to win public support for the Iraq war. The movie won the top honor at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
The film has ridden a wave of publicity since just before Cannes, when Moore began assailing Disney for refusing to let subsidiary Miramax release "Fahrenheit 9/11" because of its political content.
Miramax bosses Harvey and Bob Weinstein bought back the film and hooked up with Lions Gate Films and IFC to distribute it.
The fury over "Fahrenheit 9/11" resembled the firestorm created by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which rose to blockbuster status amid debate over whether it was anti-Semitic.
"It's like how 'The Passion of the Christ' redefined what a certain genre of movie could do at the box office," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. "This blows away any conceivable record for box office of a documentary."