The pseudo-documentary played at 91 U.S. theaters and 52 Canadian cinemas during its first three days of release, averaging an estimated $1,970 per screen, according to distributor Newmarket Films, which reportedly paid $1 million for U.S. rights to the picture.
"That's a very poor opening," said Brandon Gray, an analyst at industry watcher Web site boxofficemojo. com.
The per-screen average is considered the best initial barometer of box-office success for a limited-release film, as it offers an apples-to-apples comparison with movies of widely divergent distribution patterns.
Newmarket distribution chief Richard Abramowitz called the opening tally for "Death of a President" "a little disappointing" in light of the "enormous awareness" generated by the film since its premiere last month at the Toronto Film Festival.
At least two national theater chains boycotted the film and some television networks refused to accept paid ads for the movie. Politicians across the spectrum, from the Republican Party of Texas, Bush's home state, to New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized the film for portraying the murder of a sitting president.
Abramowitz, whose company also released Mel Gibson's highly controversial blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ," acknowledged that the subject matter of "Death of a President" might have proved to be a turnoff for American audiences.
"The very thing that drew all the attention to the film became at a certain point difficult to overcome," he told Reuters. "The controversy ... made the film very visible but not necessarily for reasons that would compel potential moviegoers to go to the theater."
British director Gabriel Range's $2 million picture centers on the hypothetical ramifications of Bush's assassination and its impact on U.S. civil liberties. The film mixes real footage of Bush with digital effects to depict the president being gunned down by a sniper as he leaves a hotel in Chicago.