History 11

April 20, 1979
National theatrical engagements are expanded to other markets, including 60+ screens in the New York metropolitan area, where Dawn grosses $1.3 million during its first two weeks. Reviews by East Coast critics such as Janet Maslin of the New York Times (who, much to George Romero’s chagrin, admits to have walked out of the theater 15 minutes into the film), Pauline Kael of The New Yorker, and Ernest Leogrande of The New York Daily News are uniformly negative.

April 23, 1979
As opposed to his abovementioned colleagues, New York critic Tom Allen champions Dawn of the Dead in a highly favorable Village Voice cover story on the film and its director. One of Allen’s quotes (“I think it’s going to be the biggest cult blockbuster of all time…”) eventually ends up being used as a headline for subsequent print advertising campaigns.

Late April 1979
Prompted by many American exhibitors’ practice of manipulating their newspaper ads for the unrated film by illicitly adding official “R” rating logos or otherwise altering them, MPAA president Jack Valenti releases an official press statement addressing the issue in no uncertain terms: “Some theaters that are playing ‘Dawn of the Dead’ designate at the box office that the film has been rated R. This is not true,” Valenti points out. “They are using the R in an unwarranted fashion, as this film has not been rated at all, and we will commence legal action against anyone who persists in misusing the R. The G, PG, and R symbols are registered with the U.S. Patent Office as certification marks of the Motion Picture Association of America Inc. and their unauthorized use in any way will be subject to legal action.” Regardless, Dawn of the Dead will still be advertised as an “R”-rated feature in some markets over the following months.

May 2, 1979
Dawn of the Dead ranks at number 4 in Variety magazine’s “50 Top-Grossing Films” list for the week ending April 28; behind The Deer Hunter, Love At First Bite, and The China Syndrome. A full-page ad run by Laurel in the same issue announces that further international rights to the film at this point have been sold to distributors in South America, West Germany, Switzerland, Greece, Portugal, the Far and Middle East, and even Venezuela.

May 4, 1979
A glowing four-star review by Roger Ebert is published in the Chicago Sun-Times. An excerpt from his piece which describes Dawn as “a savagely satiric vision of America” also makes it into print ads for the film later on, although the word “satiric” is misquoted as “satanic” therein.