Gene Expression

Expelled, success or not?

Chris Mooney is claiming Expelled is a box office success. Documentaries don’t make a very big splash typically, but whatever you think about the impact of Expelled, the fact that Fahrenheit 9/11 will go down as a much bigger success illustrates the contrast between depth and breadth of feeling from their respective audiences. Michael Moore’s politics have a smaller potential audience than the half of Americans who are Creationist, and the 3/4 of Americans who are open to the idea of “equal time,” but the devotees of Moore’s brand of Leftism are far more intense in their sentiment. I am not totally ignorant of the dynamics of Creationist politics in the United States, the history seems to be one where every time the movement manages to exceed a particular threshold of success a counter-reaction quickly dampens its damage. Despite the broad sympathy from the masses for the Creationist cause the intensity of elite feeling on this topic means that a position held by half of Americans remains marginal in the commanding heights of the culture.

Here’s the assessment from Weekend Box Office:

Ben Stein’s documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed managed to make it all the way to ninth place despite only showing on 1,000 screens. The beauty of documentaries these days is that you have some kind of built in audience so long as your subject matter and approach is controversial enough.

It’s a secret Michael Moore has been using to milk millions out of anti-Bushites for the last few years and now Expelled is benefitting. It doesn’t matter how much merit Stein’s message has, you can bet no one saw it who didn’t already agree with him.

While the movie has done moderately well in small release compared to most movies in small release, in the world of documentaries its nothing to get excited about. It will be lucky to break into the overall documentary top ten. Not too impressive since the other three documentaries that have made it to more than 1,000 screens are the top three financial performers.


  1. #1 Tyler DiPietro
    April 21, 2008

    Given the fact that just about everything was thrown into making this flick a success, it certainly can’t be considered one. The number of venues was saturated to an unprecedented level (1000+), there was a huge rebate program in place to essentially pay people to see it, and they obviously has a huge advertising and marketing budget. At the end of the day, they haven’t even matched the opening of Sicko, which took in around $4.5 in fewer than half the venues.

    The film is a flop. I get the impression that Chris simply can’t accept the fact that he and Nisbet were colossally wrong.

  2. #2 razib
    April 21, 2008

    The film is a flop. I get the impression that Chris simply can’t accept the fact that he and Nisbet were colossally wrong.

    well, i don’t have a horse in that race so to speak. i think you can probably spin it either way….

  3. #3 Jason Malloy
    April 21, 2008

    A success thanks in some part to useful idiots like PZ, Cornelia Dean at the New York Times, and (ugh, it pains me to say it) Dawkins walking right into the filmmaker’s transparent free hype traps.

    OMG, PZ got kicked out of the premiere; IT’S SUCH IMPORTANT NEWS.

  4. #4 dutton
    April 21, 2008

    but the devotees of Moore’s brand of Leftism are far more intense in their sentiment

    The success of Fahrenheit 9-11 seems to derive primarily from the political climate in which it was release, not from the subset of the left to which Moore’s fans belong. The disdain for the Bush administration and their failures in Iraq was particular acute at this time and that was what allowed the film to tap a broad audience and thus set new box office records. Under different circumstances, I doubt you would have seen someone like Paul Krugman giving a free pass to the kookier conspiratorial elements of the film.

  5. #5 razib
    April 21, 2008

    re: f-9/11,
    The film had a general release in the United States and Canada on June 23, 2004. It has since been released in 42 more countries. As of January 2005, the film had grossed nearly US$120 million in U.S. box office, and over US$220 million worldwide,[3] an unprecedented amount for a political film. Sony reported first-day DVD sales of two million copies, again a new record for the genre.[4]

    here are bush’s ratings:

  6. #6 Lassi Hippeläinen
    April 21, 2008

    I still think they are primarily aiming for the DVD market. Being a box office flop can be turned to a DVD marketing campaign: “The movie that was EXPELLED from theatres, because IT IS TRUE!!11!!1!”

    Expect to see it for sale at the Grand Canyon…

  7. #7 dutton
    April 21, 2008

    Bush’s approval rating has certainly reached far greater lows since summer 2004 but it was nonetheless at a decline at the time from it’s previous heights of invading Iraq and Saddam’s capture. More importantly, in this period there was a heightening of resentment by left-leaning individuals (not just Moore’s fanbase) for the president and media’s relatively uncritical coverage of the war and the lead up to it, see the Krugman article for these sentiments. Moore does have a devoted fanbase and they certainly have played a critical role in his films having record earnings, but that doesn’t explain why Fahreneit 911 earned domestically almost five times as much as either Sicko or Bowling for Columbine did. For that, you have to look to the political climate in which the film was released.

  8. #8 outeast
    April 21, 2008

    It’s certainly too early to call; I suspect it’ll go on raking it in (as Lassi suggests, mostly through DVD) but I don’t think that it’ll turn out to have much real impact. Polemics appeal to converts.

  9. #9 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    April 21, 2008

    This was not “just another documentary,” it had big expectations. Do its box office numbers live up to the Freedom Friday hype?

  10. #10 agnostic
    April 21, 2008

    Well the movie sure is a success in sucking even more time and effort away from doing real work, although you wonder if anyone who’s obsessed with the movie does real work anyway.

    Given the fact that just about everything was thrown into making this flick a success, it certainly can’t be considered one.

    Rewind to high school. You and your buddies are throwing everything into getting one of your friends laid. Like, melt the skin off your face laid. When all’s said and done, he has OK sex with a respectable 7. Was your project a failure?

    There are two ways to measure success: 1) to compare a measurable value against the values of others in the same contest, and 2) to compare the value against the hoped-for value of its owner.

    Using way 2) says that any outcome can be a success, simply by having really, really low hopes.

    Using way 1) is more meaningful, since it compares the outcome to similar outcomes — you could tell whether the movie beat expectation for a documentary, for example, and by how much.

    I have no idea what the data will end up saying about Expelled, but it’s way 1) that we would use to find out how successful it is.

  11. #11 cc
    April 21, 2008

    I’m sure the producers of Expelled were thrilled that they could find a Jew willing to lie about what caused the Holocaust.

  12. #12 Jason Malloy
    April 22, 2008

    This is hilarious for several reasons.

    Is there anything more boring than “intelligent design”? Imagine all the interesting things all these science-y people could be investing their time and deep emotions into rather than “intelligent design”. Nothing about their focus is healthy or practical.

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