The release of Expelled has generated all sorts of chatter, almost certainly more than it deserves on its merits as a film. It’s also produced repeated mentions of the fact that it’s the eight highest-grossing political documentary of all time– most recently, Tara Smith writing at Correlations.

That claim reminds me of a long-ago student whose application for a summer program described him as a student at “the fifth best university in Florida.” None of the people reading it could come up with four, let alone the fifth. And God knows, I would have a hard time naming seven high-grossing political documentaries.

But maybe I’m just an uncultured moron, so let’s throw this open:

What are the seven highest-grossing political documentaries of all time?

Tara posted a link to the list, but that would be cheating– without looking at the list, how many can you name?

Comments

  1. #1 Jeff
    April 22, 2008

    Bowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 911, and Sicko I think are obvious contenders.

  2. #2 Jennifer Ouellette
    April 22, 2008

    Hmmm, I guessed Michael Moore’s collective output, too, which does seem to be the case. The linked list actually supports what Randy Olson and Chris Mooney have said about the success of Expelled! IMHO. Folks can crunch the real numbers all they want, the fact remains that this piece of dreck is holding its own (at least in its first week) up there with some of the best (in some cases, oscar-winning) documentaries of the last 20 years. Ick.

    I would add a couple caveats, though:

    (1) The list is specifically about POLITICAL documentaries, and it’s not clear how the listmakers define that term — or even who the listmakers are. Where’s “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”? And for that matter, where’s Olson’s excellent “Flock of Dodos”? I’d like to know where THAT stands in the list, since it addresses the same issue, from a different angle.

    (2) I doubt Expelled! is going to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. Chances are, the people seeing the movie are those who already buy into its message, or those who don’t and are going to see the film to satisfy their curiosity about how bad it really is, and/or to bash it in the blogosphere.

    For all the surrounding hoopla, I’d say we’ll end up with a null effect. Again.

  3. #3 Opiwan
    April 22, 2008

    An Inconvenient Truth
    Fahrenheit 9/11
    Bowling for Columbine
    Sicko
    Roger and Me
    Why We Fight
    [snark]
    JFK
    [/snark]

    I have no idea what the other one might be. Why We Fight might not even be in the top 8, it’s just a recent one that was kinda sorta popular.

  4. #4 T. Bruce McNeely
    April 22, 2008

    Interesting numbers at Tara’s link –
    Expelled had the highest number of screens on opening weekend by far. The box office per screen for the entire weekend is less than $3000. That’s pretty dismal.
    It should be interesting to follow the trajectory over the next few weeks. Since the take dropped significantly from Friday to Sunday, I don’t think we’re going to see much improvement in the standings.

  5. #5 Chad Orzel
    April 22, 2008

    (1) The list is specifically about POLITICAL documentaries, and it’s not clear how the listmakers define that term — or even who the listmakers are. Where’s “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”? And for that matter, where’s Olson’s excellent “Flock of Dodos”? I’d like to know where THAT stands in the list, since it addresses the same issue, from a different angle.

    They have an entry on their site for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and its worldwide gross of $4.85 million would put it at #6 if it were on the “political documentary” list. I have no idea why it’s not there.

    They don’t have anything for A Flock of Dodos.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    April 22, 2008

    Too easy:

    1) The Greatest Story Ever Told
    2) The Simpson’s Movie
    3) The Day the Earth Stood Still
    4) Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    5) National Lampoon Family Vacation
    6) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
    7) Expelled.

  7. #7 CCPhysicist
    April 22, 2008

    Just click on “genres” and pull up the full documentary list to see that Expelled is actually 30th. Nice example of “framing” in the Karl Rove sense.

    Of more importance is dollars per screen. At only $3000 or so, it is pathetic. Compare “The Fog of War”, which only played in one fourth as many theaters.

    BTW, the Enron movie is #17 on the full list, a full 1 M$ ahead of Ben Stein’s propaganda piece (which is really a mockumentary). I also noticed “Born into Brothels” is ahead of it, and not on the “political” list.

  8. #8 Dracil
    April 22, 2008

    It may be interesting to note the opening weekend revenue per theater numbers as well. This normalizes the fact that Expelled opened on way more screens than any other theaters out there. And when looking at this metric, Expelled’s performance is simply unimpressive, if not downright horrible.

    Out of Christian films, it ranks 28 out of 62. Out of political documentaries, it ranks 52 out of 86. And out of all documentaries it’s an embarrassing 360 out of 527.

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