Expelled in context

Is Expelled the 5th highest-grossing political documentary, or is it just gross? Here are the inflation-adjusted gross takes of the leading political documentaries:

Fahrenheit 9/11 $135,552,029
Sicko $25,425,497
Bowling for Columbine $25,764,452
An Inconvenient Truth $24,146,461
Roger and Me $11,618,404
Expelled $7,486,000
Fog of War $4,901,894

You’ll note that this differs in two ways from Denyse O’Leary’s list. First, Expelled comes in 6th; second, Bowling for Columbine moves ahead of An Inconvenient Truth. The reason is simple, a dollar now is worth much less than a dollar was in 1989, or even in 2002 (thank you, Presidents Bush).


Given the rate of decline in Expelled‘s weekly take, I predict that it won’t overtake Roger & Me. Projecting out the log-linear model plotted in blue above yields a final gross in the realm of $8,077,858 (I haven’t estimate the error bound for that yet).
Furthermore, I don’t see how Expelled can earn back what they’ve spent on making and promoting their crappy movie. Maybe that’s OK with the producers, since the movie exists mainly to push ideology, and only secondarily to make money. Still, the money they hoped to earn from this could have been plowed into more ideological nonsense, had they not made such a crappy movie the first time around.


  1. #1 Pierce R. Butler
    May 20, 2008

    Is there a digit missing or a misplaced decimal in the Fahrenheit 9/11 total?

    And isn’t it requisite to standardize dollar values in rankings over different years?

  2. #2 Josh Rosenau
    May 20, 2008

    Thanks for catching the decimal error.

    Inflation adjustment should be standard, but doesn’t seem to be in entertainment reporting. Presumably because you’d have to re-adjust the stats each time you wrote a story about the top-grossing whatever.

  3. #3 Orac
    May 20, 2008

    It’s irrelevant whether the producers made their money back or ever make their money back. Such was clearly not their intent. I’m sure they would have considered it icing on the cake, but that wasn’t their primary interest.

    In any case, if you’re right and the movie makes $8 million, that’s very respectable for a documentary. That’s why it drives me crazy to see people on “our” side trying to downplay this rather than facing it and going from there. It’s not as though I haven’t done my share trashing this execrable piece of cinematic excrement, but it did make a lot of money for a documentary despite our best efforts and even despite its being boring and full of lies and misinformation.

  4. #4 Sigmund
    May 21, 2008

    Orac, I suspect that given the unique aspects of the marketing of Expelled – basically their policy of offering money to church groups to go to see the movie and arranging a deal with one particular cinema chain owner to carry their film (no doubt offering him a good deal so that he wouldn’t be out of pocket if there was a low attendance rate (which there was), I don’t know what else we could have done to counteract the film.
    If you take these factors into account it will no doubt turn the gross figure into a huge loss for the film-makers.
    Apart from the fundie church crowd (who now believe PZ and Dawkins have horns, hooves and a tail) and the evolutionists
    who wanted a laugh, who actually went to the film?
    Has it changed a single mind?
    It seems to be tightly tied in with the Discovery Institutes ‘Academic Freedom’ crusade but even that is foundering.
    Imagine it the other way, say some pro-evolution millionaire said, “here’s ten million dollars, go make a pro-evolution movie and to hell with making a profit”.
    If that pro-evolution movie, marketed in the same way -paying people to see it, bribing cinema chains to host it etc- turned out as ‘successful’ as Expelled (convincing nobody, full of lies, badly edited and frankly boring) then would we not regard it as an unmitigated disaster?

  5. #5 Richard Simons
    May 21, 2008

    “their policy of offering money to church groups to go to see the movie”

    Does anyone know if any group has actually got any money back?

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    May 21, 2008

    Orac, I agree that we shouldn’t dismiss this movie, and I’m not. Balancing promotional costs against earnings is one way, though, to judge its real draw. If you spend enough money, you can get people to do a lot of things. Had Ben Stein made $8 million the same way Michael Moore did, by making a compelling and stimulating movie that got people talking, that’d be very different than paying people to go see the movie, building buzz by screening it for free all over the country, etc.

    Furthermore, it matters a lot whether they make a profit off of this because Expelled isn’t the end of the story. If they make enough money, they can plow that back into their next project (they’ve described plans to make a tv miniseries about eugenics, and a movie about abortion). If they make a profit, they can keep the price of Expelled DVDs lower, or send copies of it to schoolteachers for free. If they lose money, they have to find new financing, and have to cut costs on other projects, maybe even shelving or delaying them. That’s part of their calculus, so it has to be part of our calculus.

  7. #7 Umlud
    May 21, 2008

    A couple extra points on being “in context” (and I’m not even adjusting for inflation, and potentially subjecting myself to the commentary of how justifiable my method is for converting gross takings into current dollars).

    1) Expelled is a political documentary? WTF? It’s as much a political documentary as Super Size Me and only slightly more than March of the Penguins – only because Expelled has people and discusses Nazi-ism.

    2) If you agree with my point #1, then Expelled is as political as any of the documentary films featuring people, and so it drops from an unadjusted-for-inflation #5 to #10 (I’m excluding March of the Penguins and Winged Migration.)

    3) If you were wondering what the “1,052” stood for in 5th column of the linked-to article, it represents the lifetime # of theaters in which the film was shown. This allows us to do a simple calculation of the film’s “efficiency” of grossing money (lifetime gross/lifetime theaters). Doing this*, you find that the film’s lifetime efficiency ranking is #176 (not adjusted for inflation and after removing ten films with no information on # theaters).

    4) Expelled is #4 in terms of total number of lifetime theaters (behind – in ascending order Sicko, F-9/11, and Penguins.

    5) If you were wondering what the “1,052” stood for in the 7th column, it represents the opening # of theaters in which the film was shown. Looking at this “opening efficiency”, one finds that the film comes in at #169 (again, not adjusted for inflation and after removing ten films with no information on # theaters).

    6) Expelled is #1 in terms of number of opening theaters. (#2 goes to Vince Vaughn’s Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights – From Hollywood to the Heartland. #3 goes to F-9/11)

    Based on these six points, I think I’ve been able to show how the DI is (again) playing funny with the implication behind numbers. (I’m wondering if I should really go through and do the inflation calculations to show how much lower their film ranks in the terms outlined above…)

    * I used the 200 top grossing documentaries. You can get the same data as used by the DI at: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=documentary.htm

  8. #8 Flex
    May 22, 2008

    It would be interesting to see the earnings over time graphed for the movies listed.

    Not that I’m going to take the time to do it, but I suspect that Roger and Me and maybe Fog of War would have a very different graph than Expelled.

    For movies, I am much more impressed with earnings which start small and grow. This suggests to me that the viewers like the movie and are spreading the word on how good it is. The intregal of Expelled‘s graph shows a very small impact, it’s almost an impulse function. :)

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