The Intersection

Expelled a Box Office Success

I merely report the facts: Expelled, opening at over 1,000 theaters this weekend, has raked in $ 3.15 million, placing it ninth at the box office. In terms of political documentaries, it is already the eighth highest grossing of all time.

UPDATE: Randy Olson, with whom I just went to see Expelled here in LA, has more on why this film counts as a major success for the anti-evolution forces.


  1. #1 Dave C
    April 20, 2008

    Does the ranking take inflation into consideration?

  2. #2 Hank Roberts
    April 20, 2008

    How is the number of theaters determined?
    Anyone mapped them?

  3. #3 kevin
    April 20, 2008

    For someone who has devoted considerable time stressing the importance of “framing”, and how pretty much every message has a “frame” of some sort, it is really weird (and distressing, and maddening) to see “I merely report the facts” as if you aren’t putting a frame on this. Just look at your title for god’s sake and ask what the “frame” here is.

    Me, I looked at those numbers. First, the top 12 list you link to mixes in new releases and old releases. Among the newly released films they are, obviously, dead last. And note that Dr. Seuss pulled in more, even though it is in its 6th week and is about a talking elephant. They did beat “Superhero Movie” (christ — who makes up these titles?). ‘course, that one is in its 4th week, and has pulled in $24 million. And just last week (in its 3rd week, that brought in more than Expelled.

    Second, the “Political Documentaries” genera looks pretty small (and I though ID was supposedly science, not politics anyway) — less than 100 films total.

    Lastly: In the larger “documentaries” category, they fall to #26. But take a look at the column showing number of theaters. Wow — over 1000 theaters for Expelled. That’s significantly more than any other documentary listed, more than even Fahrenheit 9/11 by 200. Thats odd, don’t you think? Or, well, it wouldn’t be if the gross pulled in matched such a wide opening. Looks to me like they pulled in about $3,000 per theater. Compare that to “Sicko” which opened at 1 theater (yes, one, apparently) but pulled in $68,000. Or even spellbound, at $17,500 per theater. Or Crumb, at almost $20,000. In fact, scanning the list it seems as if per theater, Expelled pulled in way, way less than any other film. Like “The Story of the Weeping Camel” and “Life & Times of Hank Greenberg”. (And has anyone ever heard of any of these films before? Not me. Maybe I’m just disconnected from pop culture?)

    Sounds like an aggressive, politically and religiously motivated push to get this into as many theaters as possible despite not actually making much, if any, profit in any of these places.

    How is that for “framing”?

  4. #4 James F
    April 20, 2008

    This ought to be tempered by its critical failure.

    Over at Rotten Tomatoes, consider the current percentage of positive reviews:

    Expelled: 9% (all reviews), 0% (top reviewers)
    Zombie Strippers: 40% (all reviews), 38% (top reviewers)

    And as a side note, the trailer is getting a lot of attention on YouTube, but ratings have been disabled and, far worse, comments are being moderated. A casual viewer would assume that all the comments are uniformly positive.

  5. #5 wintermute
    April 20, 2008

    If all publicity is good publicity, and PZ and Dawkins are only promoting Expelled, shouldn’t we be thanking Ben Stein for doing so much to promote evolution? Shouldn’t we be glad that they are spreading the word so far and wide?

  6. #6 Steve Reuland
    April 20, 2008

    Expelled will almost certainly take in several million less than what it cost to make and market. The production costs alone were $3.5 M and the marketing must have been at least several million more. A $3 M opening weekend will probably net the filmmakers about $1.5 M. From here on out it’s all downhill. Most theaters will stop showing it after a week or two.

    So the movie is a “box office success” only for certain bizarre definitions that include commercial failure.

  7. #7 Norman Doering
    April 20, 2008

    Chris, have you been getting your “facts” from Kevin 11’s blog?

    You know the screenwriter for “Expelled.”

    But if your point is that PZ added to the publicity for the film you’re right. And in return, PZ and Richard Dawkins get publicity from the film.

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing that this film becomes the symbol of what ID promoters do. And I say that without ever having seen it. I don’t have too. No one who blogs like Kevin or Ben Stein could possibly make a convincing film.

  8. #8 PZ Myers
    April 20, 2008

    Uh, right.

    So whatever did happen to “framing”? I’m just amazed at how the master framers are all about criticizing their friends and colleagues and inventing victories for the anti-science crowd. How about helping our side someday?

    It seems to me that what has actually happened here is that creationists shoveled millions of dollars into a movie, millions more into a massive advertising campaign, got the benefit of a lot of noisy controversy, and got…a brief flash in the pan. Did they even come close to covering what they spent on ads, I wonder?

    The other thing they got was a lot of negative publicity, very negative reviews, and a reputation for dishonesty. Quite an accomplishment.

    But hey, maybe the movie will win an academy award, and Stein will get a Nobel.

  9. #9 Orac
    April 20, 2008

    So whatever did happen to “framing”? I’m just amazed at how the master framers are all about criticizing their friends and colleagues and inventing victories for the anti-science crowd.

    Even though I’ve often disagreed with PZ on “framing,” I was thinking the same thing here myself. I wonder when Nisbett will weigh in claiming that this is a massive win for the creationist side and it’s all Dawkins’ fault.

    In reality, only one thing matters in Hollywood: Profits. Given the millions of dollars of marketing on top of the cost of producing the movie, it’s looking highly unlikely that Expelled! will recoup its production costs unless evangelicals buy a few million copies of the DVD when it’s released. By that measure, the only measure that matters in Hollywood, Expelled! ain’t a success.

  10. #10 Hank Roberts
    April 20, 2008

    It calls for mapping, GIS work, if anyone has the data.

    I recall reading that in fact religious books do sell quite well too, and aren’t often included on the newspaper top ten lists because, well, they’d fill it up.

    Who _does_ decide what plays in theaters, anyhow? Is there some media mogul somewhere who says, well, this one gets 20 theaters to open, that gets 200, and this one, well, yes, this one gets a thousand?

    Is that like three different theater chains? Three hundred little mom’n’pop projection shops?

    Anyone count seats per theater?

    This picture’s all raggedy at the edges. It needs a frame.

  11. #11 Hank Roberts
    April 20, 2008

    Maybe it’s just in an ugly frame; this is how the company presenting _this_ page frames it — first item, upper left corner in the box, under:

    Life Science
    Expelled a Box Office Success

    The Intersection

    I merely report the facts: Expelled, opening at over 1,000 theaters this weekend, has raked in $ 3.15…

  12. #12 chezjake
    April 20, 2008

    529 of those theaters (Regal Cinemas) are owned by Philip Anschutz, who is involved with the distributor, Rocky Mountain Pictures, has financed other pro-Christian films (Chronicles of Narnia), and is also a contributor to the Discovery Institute. See:

    Further down in that same post, Jim Lippard has the geographical distribution of 1,022 theaters that booked Expelled.

  13. #13 Mark F.
    April 20, 2008

    Sorry Chris, but it doesn’t look like it was much of a success at all. There was a story about the movie on Raw Here’s an excerpt:

    “The film made $1.2 million on Friday in 1,052 theaters. By comparison, Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’ raken in $23.9 million its opening weekend from just 441 theaters, and Fahrenheit 9/11 did $23.9 million from only 868 slots.

    “Playing in 1,052 theaters, the pic distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures earned $1.2M Friday for what should be a $3.4M weekend,” penned Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily. “But the per screen average for Friday was a feeble $1,130 (that $3,000 ballyhooed on the Internet would be for the entire weekend), showing there wasn’t any pent-up demand for the film despite an aggressive publicity campaign. So much for the conservative argument that people would flock to films not representing the “agenda of liberal Hollywood.'”

    The entire article is here:

    So the 3.15 million was actually LESS than the estimate from the article which came out earlier today. So it actually pretty much flopped. As much as I usually agree with you on other issues. I think you’re just plain wrong on this.

  14. #14 Ben
    April 20, 2008

    How about it out performing the Clooney movie, though?! Which one will gross more in the end? I put a poll up on my my blog if anybody feels like gambling.

  15. #15 Paul W.
    April 21, 2008

    Wow, Chris.

    You’re supposed to be an expert on framing, and you post this “just the facts” kind of post, and leave out the most interesting facts?

    Like the fact that the promoters of the movie have used their deep pockets to open this piece of trash on an unprecedented number of screens, and have been paying people to see it, with an unprecedented rebate program.

    You should know way better than this.

    It’s not like people you snipe at haven’t laid out some of the more interesting facts for you in the run-up to the release.

    Instead of reading what they write, and framing this appropriately, you parrot exactly the artificial stats that the the creationists want you to, and make it look like a success.

    This from the guy who wrote The Republican War on Science and condescends to Dawkins.


  16. #16 Catherine
    April 21, 2008

    You’ve done more to hurt science with your inane complex than need be. I’m guessing your post will be over at UD along with your others. Stop while you can and let the big boys do the talking.

  17. #17 Phoca
    April 21, 2008

    Regardless of the dispute over whether Expelled is a relative success or not – the problem is that the audience that has paid to see Expelled (I’m happy to say I bought a ticket to Under the Same Moon and snuck into Expelled so they didn’t get my money) is an audience that is unlikely to be receptive to movies such as Flock of Dodos. They may not even be receptive to the very idea that evolutionary biology and religion can coexist.

    There’s an interesting point in the movie when Stein responds to the claim that mainstream Catholics and Protestants can accept evolution with a skeptical “Oh really…” and then promptly moves on to make evolution = atheism one of the central points of the rest of the movie.

    How do you reach the audience that watches Expelled with the message that they can listen to evidence about evolution without giving up their most cherished beliefs and lifestyles?

    It doesn’t matter so much whether Expelled succeeds or not, what matters is whether there is some way evolutionary evidence can reach people who are susceptible to paying good money for Expelled. Unfortunately, merely teaching evolution in high school biology seems insufficient to inoculate people against this idea.

    It also seems that Expelled may be primarily intended to support “Academic Freedom” bills that are intended to shield teachers who would bring in Intelligent Design without its presence in any science standards. The crux of the problem is how many of these science teachers are there and how do you prevent them from using privileged government speech to endorse their personal religious choice to their students?

  18. #18 Catherine
    April 21, 2008

    You know what, I’m wrong. Science doesn’t change if you’re religious or atheist, cussing mo-fo or sweet as pie. It just is. That is here to stay. The “human condition” is that we will always search for an answer. So whether or not this crockumentary succeeds or fails financially changes the actual science not a whit. Progress will win, eventually.

  19. #19 michael fugate
    April 21, 2008

    Great job of helping the the anti-intellectuals.

  20. #20 Sean Walker
    April 21, 2008

    I don’t think it’s a success. I’ve got a figure up on my blog showing it’s pretty much a complete flop!

  21. #21 Chris Hallquist
    April 21, 2008

    Chris, if you want some constructive advice on how to frame this, here’s what you should have said: hundreds of thousands of movie goers just paid money to be lied to by creationists. Unlike the views Nisbet has been promoting regarding religion, this is something we actually all agree on. If you cared about good PR, you’d be doing everything in your power to promote that message, and especially figure out how to make it reach as many of those moviegoers as possible. And yet, you couldn’t even be bothered to drop a link to Expelled Exposed. Your behavior here boarders on fratricidal.

  22. #22 Colugo
    April 21, 2008

    Let’s be fair to Chris. Obviously he isn’t trying to suck up to the creationists. Rather, he is trying to mobilize the pro-science community into action with a little doomsaying.

    My suggestions:

    1. Outreach to theists and conservatives. One charge of creationists is that evolution is an elitist, anti-religious, left wing political doctrine. Ken Miller is a superb spokesman for evolution and a Catholic. Many of us have differences with Charles Krauthammer and John Derbyshire, but they both have no use for Intelligent Design. The same is true of many other conservatives.

    2. Neutralize what I perceive as Expelled’s main attacks on evolutionary biology (I’m not going to see it, but the reviews are fairly clear): Darwin-Hitler and the “persecution” of so-called dissenters from evolution.

    Some have already publicized the fact that the stories of these “dissenters” are distorted and overblown; in addition, there are truly egregious cases of people punished for teaching and promoting evolutionary biology.

    On Darwin-Hitler: the way to counteract this is by explaining a) the genetic fallacy and b) the fallacy of appeal to consequences. If something is true then it remains true no matter its origins (remember Lewontin on the bourgeois origins of Darwinism in Victorian sweatshops) or its consequences (sorry, some prominent horrible eugenicists thought they were informed by sound Darwinian reasoning – and neuroscience, developmental biology and so on). It’s a mistake to counter creationist errors with new errors (the Nazi regime was stridently anti-evolution, the Nazis were like modern American fundies on steroids transported to 1930s Germany, etc) or to get into pissing contests with whether evolutionists or creationists have higher death tolls.

  23. #23 Chris C. Mooney
    April 21, 2008

    Thanks, Colugo.

    To all of you, my views are better expressed by filmmaker Randy Olson:

    “I’m so tired of reading the rants of academics on these blogs who know nothing about the film world but feel certain ‘Expelled’ flopped because the critics didn’t like it. And they also got excited about what they thought were copyright violations that would sink the movie. But in the end, it was again just their lack of knowledge of the film world.

    It’s sad to watch evolutionists swinging in the dark…let’s go ahead and be honest here — concede that these guys scored a major victory — then figure out how to realistically deal with this communications failure rather than try to deny it happened.”

  24. #24 Zeno
    April 21, 2008

    The attendance per theater is rather mediocre. Putting Expelled on more than a thousand screens is the secret to its “success”. The real test comes when we get to the second weekend. Will there be a precipitous drop? I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen the whole thing and found it pretty dismal. [Link]

    Unless the true believers in ID (are there any, or are they all just crypto-creationists?) are willing to shell out for repeat viewings (in which case they should just wait for the DVD), attendance will fade. Word of mouth is not going to draw more viewers from outside that inner circle.

  25. #25 Matti K.
    April 21, 2008

    Chris: “It’s sad to watch evolutionists swinging in the dark…let’s go ahead and be honest here — concede that these guys scored a major victory”

    After one weekend there really is not enough information to make rationally based conclusions, is there?. Many are voicing their opinions, which is OK. But why is is that only the “framers” say in effect “I know I am right and you are extremely stupid if you don’t agree with me!”?

    Judging from Chri’s attitude, I don’t think Chris would have conceded that Expelled is a flop even if the first weekend would have brought in less than a million dollars. After all, he made up his mind beforehand and now he just uses statements of authorities and cherry-picked data to support his preconceived ideas. This kind of procedures are very common and even effective when communicating to the layman. However, Chris’s is very naive if he really believes that even a small minority of the scientifically orientated readers of ScienceBlogs will buy his sermon.

  26. #26 Ben
    April 21, 2008

    RE: GIS

    I don’t have the time to run anything great (zip code level) and there are too many points (1000+) to make a good Google map, so I just ran some state totals over at Many Eyes. If you visit my blog post below you can find the totals on a map, and a quick scatter that plots population against showings.

  27. #27 Aerik
    April 21, 2008

    Either you really are just fucking stupid, or you’re a closet creationist in this blog group. Pick one.

  28. #28 RBH
    April 21, 2008

    Mooney wrote

    It’s sad to watch evolutionists swinging in the dark…let’s go ahead and be honest here — concede that these guys scored a major victory — then figure out how to realistically deal with this communications failure rather than try to deny it happened.”

    I have to say I don’t think you have the faintest idea of the target audience for Expelled, and have somehow wandered into the delusion that they can be reached by an appropriately framed message from science. I’m on the ground in the midst of that audience, and I’ll tell you that the vast majority of that audience is unreachable. No amount of framing or spin is effective in reaching them with the message of science.

    The target audience for science is the ‘middle’ ground, and they have to be told, repeatedly and emphatically, that the people pushing the Expelled frame are liars and deceivers. Because that’s the plain truth. They lie about scientists, they lie about the science, and they lie about history. Frame that any gentler and you’re conceding to them.

  29. #29 Paul W.
    April 21, 2008


    Of course it’s a big drag if Expelled grosses over 3 million its first weekend. But we’re also really glad it didn’t do the 12 to 15 million that the Expelled guys said they’d consider a success.

    The Expellers have spent several million to make the movie, and several million to market it. They have to gross more millions to make that back with their cut, and they likely won’t. Many are predicting a rapid drop in numbers and its disappearance within a very few weeks.

    Whether it actually makes money is rather important to whether you should flatly call it a “box office success.”

    Given the very poor reviews the movie has gotten, I wouldn’t be surprised if negative reviews made the difference between a $3 million actual opening and a $12 million hoped-for opening.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if the screechy monkeys on the internet had something significant to do with that, posting critiques of the movie and its PR lies, which some movie reviewers presumably read before seeing the movie and reviewing it.

    The screechy monkeys may have shaved a few million off the movie’s eventual gross—not with the bussed-in fundies who are against us anyway, but with the reachable middle people who are mostly not going to see this movie.

    Maybe that’s not realistic. Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about and you do. So explain these things to us, rather than just parroting some sorta rigged figures and quoting Randy Olson bitching. (I read his piece. I think the comments on his piece were better than the piece itself.)

    Since these are science blogs, one thing I’d like to see from you and/or Randy is a few predictions. How much will this movie gross, and how much will it net? How big a “major success” are we really talking about?

    Will its success inspire other well-funded antiscience propaganda movie projects? (Will we see an Expelled II, or one about global warming denial?)

    Likewise I’d like to see some substantive, realistic recommendations.

    Randy seems to think we should get off our asses and make a bunch of big budget, high profile pro-science movies. Our pro-science voice should drown out their anti-science voice.

    Sounds great! But who, exactly, should make the movies, and who, exactly, will come up with the money? How are we going to make that happen? (Should the screechy monkeys stop their useless blogging and pursue higher-paid careers so that we can donate large sums of money?)

    Even assuming we managed it, would millions of people show up, and which people would that be—would they show up to our movies instead of things like Expelled?

    How do we get millions of people worked up about evolution—by saying it’s not at all threatening to their religious views? Somehow, I’m skeptical that will fill a lot of theater seats.

  30. #30 MH
    April 21, 2008

    So far, if one assumes that there have been three showings per day and that the ticket price is $7 (is that right?), then each showing has attracted 50 people. Considering the huge advertising campaign (both in and out of the media), and the fact that the theatres it was playing at were partly chosen because they were in creationist-friendly cities, and that financial rewards were offered, does this count as a success?

    Half a million people have seen it, but out of a population of 135 million YECs, that’s not much, is it? And will it have changed the mind of anyone in the audience? Most fundies already think that Darwin was responsible for all the ills of society, and that science is ‘evil’. It was basically a Ninety Minutes Hate.

    That said, I really can’t understand why you think this is a success for anti-evolution forces. Perhaps you could explain?

    What Expelled does do is provide us with copious evidence that Creationists lie, as Expelled Exposed documents. FFS, Sternberg still lists the National Museum of Natural History (where he was supposedly expelled from) as his current place of work!

  31. #31 MH
    April 21, 2008

    Also, regarding the poor reviews, they won’t have had any effect on the anti-science fundies, but I suspect that they will have had an effect on those who are more open minded; the middle ground. And as Paul W says, the reviewers would have been influenced by the outspoken criticism by people on the Web (unless you don’t think a reviewer will Google a movie before watching it).

    Even Dave Scott at Uncommon Descent (the rallying point for Intelligent Design) thinks that it’s a bad film for furthering ID, as it erroneously blames Darwin for the Holocaust.

    So, we have the producers saying that they will consider it a success if it grosses $12-15 million on the opening weekend, and you saying that it’s a success even though it’s taken $3 million, and IDists saying that it’s not good for ID, and you saying it is. What the hell is going on here? Please stop scoring own goals.

  32. #32 MH
    April 21, 2008

    Pim at Panda’s Thumb puts the number of people per showing at 30 to 40. Lots more figures there too.

  33. #33 Matti K.
    April 21, 2008

    Chris and Nisbet are selling framing as an effective and absolutely necessary weapon against a very scary enemy, creationism.

    Do you really expect them to concede that creationists shoot constantly in their own foot and that resulting bad publicity as such tends to alienate them from the “moderate middle”? Without any help from expert framers?

  34. #34 MR_G
    April 21, 2008

    From “‘Expelled’ could exceed box-office forecasts – Los Angeles Times”:

    [Executive producer] Ruloff said the film could top the $23.9-million opening for Michael Moore’s polemic against President Bush, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the best launch ever for a documentary.,1,4982009.story?

    Guess not.

  35. #35 marco sch.
    April 21, 2008

    “Expelled a Box Office Success. I merely report the facts:[…]”

    Just the facts, right.

    Except that saying it is a success is an editorial comment (a fact would just give a number). Except that we can all feel the schadenfreude you put in that comment.

    I think you are wrong on both counts: it is not a success, and even if it were it would not vindicate your lame position on the whole issue.

    And really, please consider that you could be doing more harm than good if you keep that attitude.

  36. #36 Abel Pharmboy
    April 21, 2008

    Our n of 1 revealed almost no one at our local theatre on Saturday evening for Expelled – but then again, we are in a university and tech hub.

    What I can tell you instead is that “Nim’s Island” is a terrific movie, especially for young girls, and Jodie Foster is outstanding in her comedic portrayal of a neurotic, agoraphobic, author of Indiana Jones-type book.

  37. #37 guthrie
    April 21, 2008

    I came over here from randy Olsons, and find Chris quoting this:

    “It’s sad to watch evolutionists swinging in the dark…let’s go ahead and be honest here — concede that these guys scored a major victory — then figure out how to realistically deal with this communications failure rather than try to deny it happened.”

    It made no sense to me over there, and it still makes no sense to me here. The Creationists throw millions of dollars at a propaganda movie, make many slips, lie to people, get panned by the critics. This is all exactly as would be expected. It is entirely to be expected that they would attract a number of people who are committed Creationists to watch it.

    So, there is no way for “Evolutionaists” to win here. The expelled liars are preaching to the converted. Randy is dead wrong here, and so is Chris- this is not a victory for the Creationists, unless you somehow think that us omnipotent Evolutionists should have been able to crush the film in a countrywide propaganda battle or prevent it from ever being screened in the first place. Which is patently impossible.

    Instead, you could try thinking of it as another church sermon. And on that metric, it hasn’t even lived up to the claims of its backers.

    Let me repeat this in a different way- there is no communications failure here, because the Creationists are living in a hermetically sealed bubble- there was no way in which you could rationally have expected to have any “victory” over this film in the short term, i.e. in terms of people going to see it. If anyone did expect any different, please let me know.

  38. #38 Adrienne
    April 21, 2008

    Oh please, people, Chris Mooney is in no way a closet creationist and he’s not feeling schadenfreude. The guy is as pro-science as possible. You know, that’s why he, like, wrote a book about the Repubs’ war on science, you know? In which he criticized creationism/intelligent design?

    I think Mr. Mooney and Mr. Olson are right, Expelled was a hit using objective standards (if you look at the per-screen average). On the other hand, I don’t know how the science blogosphere could have impeded its success or lessened its impact. Refusing to talk about it may not have worked any better (remember Kerry’s refusal to refute the Swift Boaters until it was too late). I also still disagree on Mr. Mooney’s assertion that the PZ-expulsion affair was a win for the “dark side” and not our side.

  39. #39 Jim RL
    April 21, 2008

    It’s interesting that your “just the facts” take wasn’t updated with kevin’s seemingly contradictory facts after they were made apparent. You also didn’t update with the facts reported by MR_G that as of Friday they were talking about grossing over $20 million this weekend and fell short by a factor of 6. I think it indicates that you have a very dim view of your audience to think anyone buys your “just the facts” bs.

    Be honest about it. They had the bankroll to open in way more theaters than most documentaries, and they took far less than predicted. Also, it was the only film out this weekend to have a decline from Friday to Saturday. I’d be willing to bet we see quite a decline next weekend.

  40. #40 Jim RL
    April 21, 2008

    Oh your facts also didn’t mention their “creative” marketing strategy:

    Through its website, Team “Expelled” is offering goodies to entice group sales in the Bible Belt and beyond, a move some call borderline bribery.

    People who bring 25 patrons to “Expelled” can get a limited-edition Ben Stein bobblehead — just the enticement for collectors like Projector who already have the Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh dolls.

    The ” ‘Expelled’ Challenge” urges schools and home-schooling groups to get students, parents and faculty to show up in force, promising donations of $5 to $10 per ticket stub for those who register.

    They are literally paying people to attend the film. C’mon, do a little digging here. Your commentors have provided more than enough information to elaborate on your facts.

  41. #41 MH
    April 21, 2008

    Adrienne, we realise that Chris is not a creationist (notice how everyone else was ignoring the troll), but you don’t say that you’re an expert on framing and then write a post like this one. He could just as easily framed Expelled’s first weekend as a failure, based on the fact that the producers had said that they would consider $12-15 takings a success.

    Writing the post as he did, he framed it it just the way that a creationist would. That’s what concerns us; not his ‘loyalty’, but his competence.

    I hope Chris will explain why he framed the film’s first three days takings as he did, otherwise it is going to further erode his reputation.

  42. #42 Caledonian
    April 21, 2008

    Why do you continue to pay attention to Mooney? Yes, it can be rewarding to speak truth to idiocy, but wouldn’t it be more effective to stop visiting this blog? There are plenty of other places on SB with interesting discussion – and if you really wanted to debunk his silly positions with others, other sites will end up talking about the really dumb things he says anyway.

    There are little sites here that get hardly any traffic. Why not give them your love?

  43. #43 Craig B
    April 21, 2008

    Well, Chris, this looks like it for me at this blog. It’s a shame; until you became obsessed with Nisbet and framing, I really enjoyed your work. But now it is clear that your desire to say “I told you so” – nevermind the facts – is stronger than your desire to write informative, thoughtful work. Hell, it’s clearly stronger even than your obsession with framing, since this is “framed” in a way that I am quite sure will be trumpeted on creationist web sites as the surrender of “Darwinsits” to ID. Good framing! You do harm to the causes you say you care about and you do harm to the many people who toil in various ways on the fronts lines of the culture wars. Pathetic, Chris, really pathetic.

  44. #44 J. J. Ramsey
    April 21, 2008

    It seems like it is too soon to tell if Expelled is a success or not. So far, it doesn’t seem to be doing too badly for a documentary, but there are things that we don’t know or can’t know yet, such as whether it has legs, or how many of the people who’ve seen it have liked it. It certainly isn’t a smash success right now.

    I think that you are still stuck in counterintuitive mode.

  45. #45 MarkH
    April 21, 2008

    I’m afraid I have to agree with CraigB and others. You’ve again provided ammo to the creationists based on a poorly-framed post, and I tend to agree with the evidence that the film was largely a failure. There is no evidence it exceeded the “already-convince” audience like a Moore film. Does framing not apply to your blog?

  46. #46 Paul A
    April 21, 2008

    Calm down everyone, you’re forgetting that Chris lives in opposite-world where a film bringing in dreadful box-office returns is a success and books like The GOd Delusion are a failure, where creationists are calm and rational and scientists are hysterical fundamentalists. Just reverse his judgements and you’ll be approaching a sane post.

  47. #47 Mark Norris
    April 21, 2008

    Its possible that this is the most incompetent example of framing I have ever seen, if this is the best you have to offer I’ll stick to the facts spoken plainly thank you. Let us restate them:

    The makers said beforehand that they would class $12-15 million as a successful opening weekend, they even thought $24 million was possible. They took $3 million, even after paying people to attend.

    In what reality is taking 1/4-1/5th of what you thought to be a success, actually a success?

    The more Chris comments on these things, the more I’m reminded of those “Democratic Strategists” that turn up on Fox and spend all of their time criticising Democrats.

  48. #48 Kevin
    April 21, 2008

    I think it is a mistake to give much consideration to opening weekend numbers. The real issue is how the movie, and the lies it packages, does in the long term. This movie is intended to stir up anti-evolution sentiment, and to link Darwin, Hitler, atheism, and science in the popular mind. After the DVD is released, will screenings at churches, or among church groups, be commonplace?

    As has been recently noted elsewhere, the public is increasing reluctance to give a fair hearing — or any hearing at all — to opposing points of view. It doesn’t matter how wrong this movie is, if it can sell its viewpoint to its intended audience. It is intended to be divisive–to create a distinct camp of god fearing believers vs heathen murdering atheists and to condemn the influence of atheists (read scientists) in the public sphere.

  49. #49 Chris C. Mooney
    April 21, 2008

    My further statement is here

    Among other things it says the following:

    “go ahead, ignore Olson. Keep on firing inward. Beat up on me. Call me (the author of The Republican War on Science) a creationist.

    This abuse will not stop me from continuing to call for serious introspection about the massive communication crisis we’re facing in the science world.”

  50. #50 rjb
    April 21, 2008

    I agree with Kevin. Too early to judge here.

    On another note, apropos of nothing, I’m wondering of the Premise media influence will ever lead to the following spin…

    In the Passion of the Christ, the Jews were responsible for killing Christ.

    Now in Expelled, the Darwinists are responsible for killing the Jews.

    Thus, by the transitive property, the Darwinists killed Christ!!!

    As I said, apropos of nothing, but lets see if it shows up on Vox Day…

  51. #51 Sean Walker
    April 21, 2008

    oops on my comment… there was a late night math error. Expelled is right along the line that’s expected for the number of theaters that it’s in.

    How depressing.

  52. #52 Neil Davies
    April 21, 2008

    On his blog, Randy Olsen said “Success in America is not determined by reviews, it’s determined by box office.” In this case I would have thought ultimate success would have been defined by the success of the arguments in the film at influencing opinions. Box office hasn’t got much, if anything, to do with that. For all you know the lies and propaganda in this film might swing just as many ‘moderately religious’ people who have paid to see it towards the rational point of view as the fundamental one.

  53. #53 SC
    April 21, 2008

    I have to say that I’m shocked and dumbfounded by the way you proceed here. The same pattern recurs with no alteration, and the fact that some people have shown such extraordinary patience with it speaks very highly of them.

    You present an assertion that is either unsubstantiated by evidence or backed by a single source, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. When commenters or other bloggers challenge that assertion with alternate evidence or arguments, or request further evidence for or qualifications of your position, you simply ignore them. Refusing to engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue, you merely point them to others who share your view without showing why their evidence is more valuable than that offered by the people who disagree with you. Or worse, you refer them to somewhere where you made essentially the same unfounded arguments to a rapt and adoring audience. Just as people should not have to see your twelve-part Discovery Channel miniseries “The Frames of War” or the off-off-Broadway farce “The Pajama Frame” to understand your position on the broader issue, so their challenges to your contention concerning the success or failure of Expelled are not engaged by referring them to Randy Olsen. (Thank you, by the way, to all of the people on these blogs with industry knowledge who have presented such interesting information about interpreting box office results.)

    It’s really painfully simple. People generally expect, and deserve, a discussion or debate in which contentions are cogently argued – this ideally means taking opposing viewpoints into consideration in the formation of the argument itself – and supported with empirical evidence. Hic Rhodus, hic salta!

  54. #54 Tusle
    April 21, 2008

    Wow. Nice framing there, Chris.

    How about this instead:

    Expelled, opening at over 1,000 theaters this weekend, has made $3.15 million this weekend, despite statements by its producer that $12-15 million would be a success, and his prediction that it could beat Fahrenheit 9/11‘s $23.9 million record opening for a documentary . Its per-screen average $2,997, which is respectable, but well below the wide opening per-screen of Fahrenheit 9/11 ($27,558) and Sicko ($10,207). It is rare for a documentary to open on this many screens (despite its moderate box-office, its opening day screen count was the second largest for a documentary in history, behind only Fahrenheit 9/11).

    The main test of a film’s profitability, however, especially for such a wide release, is how it plays after opening weekend — major non-documentary releases can drop as much as 40-50% on their second weekend. For example, Left Behind, which aimed for some of the same demographic as Expelled, opened in 2001 on 867 screens, with a comparable $2,489 average for $2,158,780, but its second weekend box office dropped 67%, and it finished its very short six-week run with a total domestic gross of $4,224,065. It remains to be seen how well Expelled lasts at the box office, and how much it can build on its opening weekend take.

    Those are also the “facts”, but presented in such a way that it provides context to the reader, and engages them in their values and interests, and avoids giving ammunition to the opponents of science. This kind of approach to presenting information can be very handy — I just wish there were a catchy name for it…

  55. #55 island
    April 21, 2008

    This is absolutely hillarious, although, not at all unexpected. Of course nobody else will see it this way, but virtually every liberal movie reviewer in existence is calling the movie a complete flop and a box office failure, while their right winged counterparts all say that it is a fabulous money generating success. Literally none of them know the first thing about the subject, and absolutely nothing that either side says to the other in any of the forums has any effect whatsoever on anyone, because they all just *know* that their side is right.

    The irony of course lies in the fact that this includes “experts” on both sides of the debate who supposedly to know what they are talking about, like PZ Meyers and Stephen Meyer.

    How… globalwarmingesque`

    Keep telling yourselves that any of these people care one iota about the integrity of the science that gets abused BY BOTH SIDES, INCLUDING THESE “EXPERTS”.

    Keep lying to them and yourselves, in other words. Keep pretending that your culture war isn’t your main motivational factor.

    After all… you’re bound to sway nobody, and then you can declare your side to be the winner, per the usual.

    I’m tired of being disgusted, so now I just laugh out loud at these losers on both sides… “lol” what a joke…

  56. #56 lylebot
    April 21, 2008

    A “major victory”? For an average of $3000 per theater? Actually, what this shows is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about this “debate”.

  57. #57 Craig B
    April 21, 2008

    Anecdotal evidence from people I know who have seen the movie or have access to local theater info suggests that the vast majority of attendees on opening weekend were bussed in from fundamentalist churches and megachurches in order to make the numbers look good to people like Chris. Sad to say it worked.

  58. #58 Pierce R. Butler
    April 21, 2008

    Expelled flopped. It’s marginally less embarrassing to be an American now.

  59. #59 Jim RL
    April 21, 2008

    island, that is quite a false equivalence you have setup there. Please, show me the biologists that are lying for evolution. Please cite just a few examples for me. I don’t think you can. You’re just too interested in “balance” and pretending to be above it all to realize sometimes one side is right.

  60. #60 pough
    April 21, 2008

    Keep on firing inward.

  61. #61 Pierce R. Butler
    April 21, 2008

    I’d like to nominate myself for the most framically-incorrect comment of the day, based on my preceding post.

  62. #62 lylebot
    April 21, 2008

    Following on my previous post: st most 600,000 people saw this movie. That’s pitiful. That’s no more than 0.2% of the population. “Seinfeld” reruns get a bigger audience than Expelled has so far, and I doubt Expelled is going to do much better in the coming weeks given the reviews.

  63. #63 island
    April 21, 2008

    Jim RL, go fly a kite, because this isn’t the time nor the place, but I prove my point all day, every day, and have done so many times on these science blogs.

    Course, you could always click-on my pseudonym and take it to my blog where you can find plenty of evidence for my claims… but non of you chickenshits ever do that.

  64. #64 island
    April 21, 2008

    Here Jim, I’ll even get you started, and you can comment within the relevant posting:
    If I wanted to argue for a position on the basis of the anthropic principle, rather than trying to pretend that we live in a Goldilocks universe, we should be wondering how we ended up in such a hostile dump of a universe, one that favors endless expanses of frigid nothingness with scattered hydrogen molecules over one that has trillions of square light years of temperate lakefront property with good fishing, soft breezes, and free wireless networking.
    -PZ Meyers

    Willful cluelessness is no different than a lie:

  65. #65 Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    April 21, 2008

    From Reason magazine:
    “At an April 15 press conference for bloggers held at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., the movie’s producers said that they plan to use the movie as part of a campaign to roll out legislation in states–so-called ‘freedom bills’–that would forbid anyone from ‘punishing’ teachers and professors who question ‘Darwinism.’ Walt Ruloff noted that the science standards of about 26 states are currently in play and that Florida was likely to pass such a ‘freedom bill.’ “

    The producers of this movie don’t give a damn about the reviews or the box office take or charges of deception and plagiarism. They’ll measure their success in terms of further encroachment on teaching science. As long as they motivate their base to get to the polls, spread the persecution meme, and get more Academic Freedom-from-Learning bills passed, they’ll accomplish this goal.

  66. #66 Craig B
    April 21, 2008


    You have hit the nail on the head. Missouri, where I teach, is for the second straight year working on such a bill right now, and I have no doubt that the Expelled propaganda (and quoting Chris, perhaps) will be used in support of that bill. As you point out, the consequences are vastly larger than Chris’ petty obsessions with framing, PZ, etc. He has potentially done real harm here.

  67. #67 ponderingfool
    April 21, 2008

    So what if it was a “success”? My bet is it would have been a “success” regardless of whether “those atheists” made a fuss or not. All the hot air from the pro-framing and anti-framing side is devoid of you know actual data. The box office value means nothing in that debate because we don’t know what the value means. Was it the built in audience who turned out (i.e. true believers) or did the pick up a sizeable share of those wobblers? Of the expected audience based on past precedent what was the expected box office? Wake me when anyone has anything actual of substance to say. Down right pathetic the whole thing by the SBers. Little children to say the least.

  68. #68 island
    April 21, 2008

    Craig B,

    Check the legal wording of these bills very carefully, because the Florida bill is carefully worded to preclude religion, creationism, “creationism facts”, “creation theories”, and ID, as ID is currently espoused.

    Apparently, the DI has taken another new tack, and is now banking their future on the assumption that ID will become a real scientific theory, as this was expressed by the originator of the bill, Ronda Storms, when she questioned extensively by democrats who were trying to expose her alterior religious motives.

    Their tactics have changed because they most certainly must know that they cannot afford to lose in court again, and they are not doing anything that science should not logically embrace, since valid, peer reviewed, ***scientific*** criticisms that aren’t about to overturn evo-theory, are welcomed by science, if not politicians and their reactionarily paranoid croneys.

  69. #69 Cheryl Shepherd-Adams
    April 21, 2008

    Craig B, my comment wasn’t intended as a swipe against Chris; he’s done far more than I have or will ever do to raise awareness of the anti-science movement in our country.

  70. #70 factician
    April 21, 2008


    I am both sad and happy with the box office take of Expelled. Yep, they took in $3 million. That means roughly 300,000 people are a little dumber today than they were on Friday.

    But really, the response of movie critics has shown me that even non-scientists realized what a flaming pile of poo this movie really was. (Check out Rottentomatoes, they’re hovering around 9% last time I looked).

    Unlike other documentaries, this one will be on fewer screens next weekend, and disappear in 2 weeks.

    Yep, it’s a disaster that 300,000 people watched this piece of poop and found it entertaining. But we already know that roughly half of Americans (about 125 million?) are creationists. So it’s merely confirmation that we have work to do.

  71. #71 eric
    April 21, 2008

    “This abuse will not stop me from continuing to call for serious introspection about the massive communication crisis we’re facing in the science world.”


    stop making yourself into such a martyr…

    they made a deceptive film and marketed it to a bunch of ignorant fools. 2 months from now, no one will even remember this shoddy piece of propaganda.

  72. #72 Matthew L.
    April 21, 2008

    Calling Expelled the eighth-highest-grossing-political-documentary of all time is giving a bit too much credit to a big fish in a (very) small pond. The top-N list doesn’t even go to 100 in this category, one film clocks in at number 86 with a gross of $1,088. That’s probably not even a full theater of viewers.

    I think the real lesson here is that nobody watches political documentaries.

  73. #73 Tulse
    April 21, 2008

    “Massive communications crisis”? I’ll say — here’s some back cover blurbs for the Expelled DVD:

    “Blockbuster power”
    – Randy Olson, filmmaker

    “Expelled [is] a box office success.”
    – Chris Mooney, best-selling science journalist

    “Meet Ben Stein, the new spokesman for the field of evolution.”
    – Randy Olson, filmmaker

    “These guys scored a major victory.”
    – Chris Mooney, best-selling science journalist

    – Randy Olson, filmmaker

    “A major success for the anti-evolution forces.”
    – Chris Mooney, best-selling science journalist

    “Go see ‘Expelled’.”
    – Randy Olson, filmmaker

    Now that’s framing. A shame it is being done for them by “our” communications experts.

  74. #74 Screechy Monkey
    April 21, 2008

    How are we defining “success”? Profit? Number of people who see the film? Extent to which the film changes the views of its audience?

  75. #75 King Aardvark
    April 21, 2008


    What box office result would you have needed to see to view Expelled as a failure?

  76. #76 craig B
    April 21, 2008

    Cheryl: I know you were not directly arguing against Chris and I’m sorry that my hastily written comment is misleading about that.

    On the other hand, I certainly do mean the “swipe” against Chris – I think Tulse’s post about the DVD box expresses it perfectly – precisely because he has done so much and has so much potential. It is always far sadder and more disturbing when a bright, informed person totally screws up, repeatedly and defensively, than when a crackpot does. I don’t bother reading or posting on a creationist web site; I don’t even bother posting (though I read) PZ’s site. It is precisely because Chris has done good work – and is now doing such harm – that I bother, in the faint hope that he will listen at some point, though there is no sign of that whatsoever.

  77. #77 Craig B
    April 21, 2008

    Tulse: Brilliant.

    You know what would really save the day for all of us, especially Chris? If he never talked about framing again. Clearly, it is not where his talents lie.

  78. #78 J-Dog
    April 21, 2008

    The only framing this film needs is a porcelain bowl to hold it temporarily before it is flushed away into obscurity.

    After the Church Buses stop running the True Believers(TM) over to the Movie Houses after Services, the talk will die down along with the revenues.

    Even Expelled Movie Star William’s Dembski’s long-time autocratic Blog Czar DaveScot Springer has publicly derided Expelled’s purported Darwin to Hitler meme of the movie at Dembski’s pet blog Uncommon Descent.

    According to the estimates that I have seen, the producers spent almost as much in promoting this movie, if not more, than it cost to make the movie. So, when even a determined and committed IDist like DaveScot has a problem with this ID candy, and the only people interested in seeing it are committed Creationists and IDCers, and the movie will never even make one dime, I think we can safely say the movie is NOT a success.

    Frame it in Porcelain, and flush it away.

  79. #79 Jim Lippard
    April 21, 2008

    The final numbers for “Expelled”‘s weekend box office are in, and there’s a downward revision from the estimate Chris reports.

    It came in at #10 for the weekend, grossing $2,970,848, with a per-theater take of $2,824.

  80. #80 the real cmf
    April 21, 2008

    You were right indeed: it appears the a-PZers were able to propel this crap into DVD-dom.

    If it weren’t for all of the earned media that sciblogs generated for Stein, I doubt anyone in the target audience of religious shut-ins, Koreshians, and straw wig wearing bolsheviks would have heard of Expelled.

  81. #81 Science Avenger
    April 21, 2008

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who wondered just how emotionally vested you were in your particular framing strategy. We don’t have to wonder any more. You are so vested in it that you could not only misrepresent an obvious failure as a success, but be surprised that people called you on it. Financial loss, rejection from practically all potential allies, and an audience made up almost entirely of the choir is what Expelled wrought, and that’s a failure by any objective measure.

    It’s sad Chris, it really is. To think that the author of such great books could be reduced to this. We in the science community have, at least on this issue, lost a great ally.

  82. #82 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2008

    Keep on firing inward. Beat up on me.

    Chris, take a look at your responses to Expelled. They fall into all of two categories: 1) Everyone else’s responses to the movie are wrong, and 2) the movie is a success. That’s pretty much it. To make it even worse, your reasons for rejecting everyone else’s responses were primarily that the controversy brings attention to the movie…which makes your second category particularly irritating. No one should say, “this is a bad movie,” but Mooney and Nisbet should spread the word that “this movie is a success”? That makes no sense.

    If you’re getting fired on, it’s because you’ve been consistently firing against the evolution side on this issue. It’s getting a little old.

    How about giving us something other than the condescending sniping at your lessers in the field of science communication, or the boosterism for an ID propaganda film? Could one of you guys possibly write something, O Masters of Framing, that actually tries to persuade a reader that Expelled is a bad film? Something that would be useful to hand to an apologist for creationism that would, say, address him in a frame to make him rethink his opinion? That’s what framing was for, I thought.

  83. #83 RBH
    April 21, 2008

    Hey Mooney, I just ran into this excerpt from Matt Taibba’s new book. It’s a description of a retreat held by John Hagee’s megachurch. Tell me a framing of evolution that’ll get to these kinds of people:

    By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you’ve gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd. There is no “anything else.” All alternative points of view are nonstarters. There is this “our thing,” a sort of Cosa Nostra of the soul, and then there are the fires of Hell. And that’s all.

    Any suggestions?

  84. #84 A Lurker
    April 21, 2008

    That it is the #8 documentary of all-time is not really all that impressive. Indeed movie in its first three days is #8 for those three days can also be #8 in the all time documentary list shows that documentary don’t do all that well on the big screen. I really don’t think investors really care what the genre is anyhow (unless they are motivated more by apologetics than financial gain).

    But that being said, “Expelled” did not have a bad per screen average. Indeed, it did better than most of the movies in the multiplexes which it showed at. Theater owners did not lose out by showing it. Showing it was a good financial call from them. Hopefully the bad quality of the film will greatly its take next week.

    Like many small films a brief stint at the theaters is a bit of a stunt anyways. The real money for these guys is going to be the DVDs. And one can be the religous book stores will give it a lot of sales. This is where our side will have to watch carefully. Not just mainstream video stores, but in stores like Mardels. If it bombs on DVDs then it will discourage copycats. If it does well, our side will have a problem.

    PZ, whether or not the film is a finacial success is irrelevant to whether or not it is an accurate film or even if it is a good film. Evaluations on how well this movie has done must be based on reality and not on propaganda needs.

  85. #85 Jim Lippard
    April 21, 2008

    A Lurker:

    “Expelled”‘s per-screen average:

    Friday: $1,145 ($1,205,000 total)
    Saturday: $941 ($990,000 total)
    Sunday: $737 ($775,000 total)

    “Expelled”‘s rank each day:
    Friday: 8
    Saturday: 9
    Sunday: 10

    It was ranked #10 for the weekend, not #8 (or #9, as Chris incorrectly stated). It’s not #8 for documentary, it’s #8 for political documentary. It’s currently #30 for documentary. That’s without adjusting for inflation.

    Chris: I hope you will correct your post, which incorrectly reports “Expelled”‘s weekend box office take and rank.

  86. #86 DavidONE
    April 22, 2008

    Mooney: “…will not stop me from continuing to call for serious introspection about the massive communication crisis we’re facing in the science world.”

    The introspection first needs to be on your part methinks. This thread stands as testimony to that.

    By the evidence presented in the comments here, the film is a commercial failure. Evidenced by its rank it has also failed to interest the wider, ‘middle ground’ public. The only subjective ‘success’ that can be claimed for the film is that it has reinforced persecution fantasies and Bronze Age idiocy in the bible belt.

    Remind me, whose side are you on with this ‘framing’ thing?

  87. #87 JohnT
    April 22, 2008

    Mooney wrote, “This abuse will not stop me from continuing to call for serious introspection about the massive communication crisis we’re facing in the science world.”

    And damn it, you’ll fight it whether it exists or not; even to the point where you have to create the “massive communication crisis” yourself.

  88. #88 Paha Arkkitehti
    April 23, 2008

    Mojo box office: on monday, total $238k, ave. $227/theater. ~$7/ticket=33/day/theater.. And put 3-5 shows/day. Sure Chris, this is certainly success.

  89. #89 Paul W.
    April 29, 2008

    Weekend Update

    Expelled grossed about 1.4 million dollars its second weekend, down from about 3 its first weekend. That’s on almost as many screens, still a bit over 1000, so about half as much per screen.

    The total so far including intervening weekdays is about 5.3 million, gross, and nowhere near netting the money they’ve spent to make and advertise it.

    I’d guess it will start rapidly losing screens now, and be gone within a very few weeks without making more than a few million more gross dollars.

    I’ve heard it cost several million to make and they spent several million to market it. (6 + 7 = 13 million by one account, but I don’t know if that’s at all realistic. It doesn’t look like a $6 million dollar movie, unless Ben Stein took a big paycheck.)

    This does not sound like a major box office success to me; it sounds like a flop or the kind of eventual success that loses money at the box office but makes it up in DVD sales and rentals. (Keep in mind that net is substantially lower than gross box office—something like half, but maybe higher the first two weeks; I’m unclear on that.)

    (I’m not a movie biz expert, so don’t take my guesses for much too seriously.)

    Also, being a box office flop-or-not-much-better doesn’t make it a failure. If it makes positive money including DVD sales, that may encourage more of this kind of antiscience crap. And it looks like a million or more people will see this cinematic turd.

    It does seem to be nowhere near the kind of success the producers were expecting or hoping for, pulling in a small fraction of what they guessed.

    The critical panning is holding steady at Sucks Bigtime. says it’s got 30 negative reviews out of 33, and a big fat zero positive reviews among the 13 “top critic” reviews. I suspect folks like PZ have something to do with the critics being unusually aware what a deceptive piece of garbage it is.

    I assume that’s keeping a lot of people away—at least wobbly middle folks, and the folks seeing it are mostly intellectual goners anyhow.

    So Chris, is this what you mean by a “box office success,” or a “major victory”?

    That’s not a rhetorical question, BTW. In some sense it is a major success any time you can get your axe-grinding documentary seen by a million or so people. The expelled folks can do that mainly by virtue of having a multimillion dollar ad budget and millions of loonies already on their side.

    On the other hand, it seems that when you consider the potential damage from a dangerous piece of crap being hugely hyped and released on 1000+ screens, we’re getting off pretty lightly.

    (Imagine the potential damage if the movie had actually been clever, fun, and well-made. Scary thought.)

    Also, Chris, do you still think it was bad for P.Z. and Dawkins to swiftboat the expelled folks? (I mean that in the best sense, with no imputation of sleaze or dishonesty.) To me it appears to have worked, helping to ensure that the critics would tell the wobblies to stay away. (I don’t have any idea how to verify or refute that, though. Do you?)

  90. #90 Paul W.
    May 3, 2008

    Expelled lost more than a third of its screens going into its third week.

  91. #91 Paul W.
    May 5, 2008

    Despite the reduction in screens, presumably cutting the worst performers, Expelled’s per-screen take went down its third weekend. The gross went way down.

    The third weekend take was around $684K, a shade less than half the second weekend’s, and less than a quarter of its first.

    It appears that Expelled’s popularity has a half-life of about a week. If that were to continue forever, it wouldn’t make more than another million and half, for a total of around 8 million, gross.

    If it cost only $10 million to make and market, the net still falls several million short of costs. If it cost $13 million, as somebody reported, it’s losing huge money.

    They might be able to make back the difference in rentals, etc., but I’m skeptical. Word of mouth about this movie seems to be helping kill it, on top of the critical consensus.

    I’ve been wondering if it would have an afterlife as a free movie, given to unsuspecting households on doorsteps or in the mail. (Like the Jesus movie they gave away all over America a few years ago. I think most households got a copy.)

    Now I’m guessing not; it’s such an embarrassing turkey it’d be hard to raise the cash to give it away. Anybody with the money would likely wait for a less stinky rathole to pour their money down.

  92. #92 Tulse
    May 5, 2008

    If it cost only $10 million to make and market, the net still falls several million short of costs.

    Keep in mind that the production company usually gets only about 40-60% of the box office gross. Even if the film pulls in $8 million in ticket receipts, the net take for the producers is going to be around $4 million.

    In general, over its entire theatrical run the film may end up making a little more than half the $12-15 million the producers were predicting for opening weekend. That sure looks like a flop to me.

    To put it into perspective, it is currently 10th on the all-time box office for Christian movies, and it is extremely unlikely to catch the films ahead of it, even though they are Facing the Giants, End of the Spear, and The Omega Code (I hadn’t even heard of the first two). And this is without adjusting for inflation. Just in terms of ticket sales, it has yet to crack a million admissions (or, in other words, 0.3% of the US population has seen the film).

  93. #93 Paul W.
    May 5, 2008

    Keep in mind that the production company usually gets only about 40-60% of the box office gross. Even if the film pulls in $8 million in ticket receipts, the net take for the producers is going to be around $4 million.

    Some people have been saying that during the first two weeks, the cut can be substantially higher than the later ~50 percent, maybe 80 percent. I don’t know if that’s right, or if the Expelled folks got such a deal. (I think the theory is that during the first couple of weeks, which are usually the biggest, the theaters can make most of their money off of concessions. After that, they take a bigger cut to make it worth keeping the movie in the theaters.)

    If the Expelled folks got 80 percent during the first two weeks—which I strongly doubt—that’d be about $4.7 million net for the first two weeks. If they gross about 3 million after that, at 50 percent that’d be another 1.5 million. So maybe a bit over 7 million if they cut a good deal.

    If they paid $10 million, and got a good cut, they look to lose around $3 million. Maybe they can make that back somehow with post-theatrical sales…? If they paid $13 million, they’re about $6 million in the red.

    Either way, that’s not a “box office success” as I understand the term. A box office success is one that makes back its costs and proceeds to make a profit at the box office; later rentals etc. are gravy.

    This looks to be a box office failure, even if they can cut their losses with post-theatrical revenues.

    Maybe a movie expert can tell us how they’re going to make back 3 to 6 million dollars; until then, I think this is what you call a huge flop.

  94. #94 Tulse
    May 12, 2008

    Perhaps this is beating a dead horse, but given how big a topic this was here, I think it’s reasonable to mention that Expelled now looks like it will be hard-pressed to end its theatrical run above $7.5 million. This weekend it only played in 402 theatres (down from 1,052 opening weekend, and 656 of the prior weekend), and made only an estimated $302,000 the entire three days of the weekend. In total it has made $7.2 million, and even it stays in the theatres another weekend, on this trajectory it is unlikely to pull in enough to make it to $7.5 million.

    That puts it 12 on the all time documentary list, behind Tupac: Resurrection and Hoop Dreams. It also will end up 10 on the Christian movie list, just ahead of Megiddo: The Omega Code II and behind Facing the Giants. Given the company it’s keeping, I still think calling it a “success” is ludicrous, especially given the grand claims of the producer, and the likely cost of the production. This sucker will not turn a profit in its theatrical run.

  95. #95 Jim Lippard
    May 13, 2008

    Looks like “Expelled” will end its U.S. box office run with about $7.5 million in gross revenue (it’s at $7.2M now, and is down to $30K/day in 402 theaters), making it the #5 political documentary since 1982, the #12 documentary, and, briefly, the #10 Christian film (until it gets pushed out of that spot by Prince Caspian after that film’s opening next weekend). Those rankings are all for nominal, non-inflation-adjusted gross revenue.

    The film cost about $4 million to make and “a multiple of that” to distribute and promote. If that total was $16M, the U.S. box office doesn’t put it even close to half way to profitability (since that revenue is shared with the theaters). Yoko Ono’s lawsuit precludes a DVD release any time soon, as well as increasing the amount of revenue needed to break even.

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