Expelled! A Box Office Flop. Or Success. Depending on how you frame it.

Chris Mooney, who every day seems to transmogrify more and more into a creationist apologist, makes the case that Expelled! is a box office success. He seems almost giddy about it in his post on the topic. I'm sure Chris will be blaming PZ Myers, me, the rest of us people for part of this. But see below.

Elsewhere, and in contrast, we find evidence that Expelled is "on track to be a box-office bomb" (from Laelaps).

There is other evidence of Expelled! lack of success.

Playing in 1,052 theaters, the pic distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures earned $1.2M Friday for what should be a $3.4M weekend. But the per screen average for Friday was a feeble $1,130... 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"...

To compare, An inconvenient Truth had a 70K per theater average, Super Size Me earned 12K per theater, and Roger and Me 20K. So Expelled! is a full order of magnitude less attractive to actual theater goers than the top guns. Don't listen to Mooney's feeble attempt at framing his favorite movie as a hit! (op.cit.)

(Ouch ... sorry Chris, but you're cruising, soi I'm bruising.)

The most current box office info on Expelled can be seen here. From where I sit it looks like it will just barely break 3 million. Also note, this is one of those weekends with nothing really big going on. This would have been a good weekend to release that home movie of your Aunt Tillie's wart removal.

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On Sunday, Chris Mooney and Randy Olsen both tried to make the case that Ben Stein's "Evolution Caused the Holocaust" movie was a success at the box office. Both of them have been rather spectacularly condemned for calling Expelled a success, but I'm not sure that they're entirely wrong. I just…
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I didn't get to see Bill Maher's Religulous, but apparently a lot of people did. It was on 502 theaters, and earned $3,500,000. For those keeping track, Ben Stein's Expelled earned $2,970,848 on its opening weekend, and was showing on 1,052 theaters. In other words, it earned less money despite…

I get that you don't agree with Chris but this:
Chris Mooney, who every day seems to transmogrify more and more into a creationist apologist
really is not necessary.

Chris' position on framing re: evolution vs creationism hasn't been particularly well supported; however, his work on the global warming issue has been outstanding and the framing that he and others have used has worked. Moreover, he is the author of two outstanding books that have reached millions of American's opening their eyes to current issues that affect science in American today. I, for one, don't see the use in personally insulting him or wondering if he might be a creationist sympathizer. He clearly is not one.

Chris' difficulty here is that if the film was a failure, that means he and Nisbet were colossally wrong in their insistence that the bad publicity they were getting was actually good, which would in turn be yet another knock on their credibility. It's self-interested spin and damage control, the same crap we see from the DI after every major defeat.

I made a nice graph showing this is a flop on my blog. If you look at the relationship between number of theaters that a political documentary opens in and the amount of money it grosses on opening weekend, expelled is -16 deviations away from that line. OUCH.

I'm still waiting to see if any of that money will be going to legal fees and lawsuit settlements.

Junior: I'm not personally insulting Chris at all. I like the guy. (And I'm well aware of and in admiration of his accomplishments).

Of course, three million dollars is a very impressive amount of money for a documentary to make on its opening weekend. Thing is, most documentaries don't open on over a thousand screens and there's a very good reason for that; as long as there is still an (unfair, IMHO) prejudice that documentaries do not make for big-screen entertainment, they will open small, expand slowly and rely on positive word-of-mouth to get business. Expelled's release strategy strikes me as a tacit acknowledgement that they weren't expecting positive word of mouth.

There are, as we know, other factors in it getting this result; the busing-in of church members, bribing kids, etc. Frankly, if there was a First Amalgamated Church of Bennifer willing to employ these tactics, Gigli might have gone into profit. So I'd count it as being pretty much a flop, especially when you factor in how much money they must have spent on that nationwide ad campaign, and how much they're probably going to have to spend on all their copyright lawsuits.

And more than anything there's the factor raised in the Friendly Atheist's post: the supporters of Intelligent Design have told us for years that Hollywood's perceived anti-religious, liberal agenda is turning off the majority of the country, and if only people would start putting out clean Christian movies you'd see an upwards trend in box office. Well, someone did that this weekend, and it turns out that nearly six times as many people wanted to see an R-rated sex farce with heavily-promoted full-frontal nudity. I'd hope that this was the end of the myth about ordinary Americans shunning Hollywood's filth, but it won't be. The people pushing the myth are too shamelessly dishonest to let it rest.

By Der Bruno Stroszek (not verified) on 20 Apr 2008 #permalink

I'm not personally insulting Chris at all.

weak. be a man; if you insult chris by calling him an apologist don't pretend as if you're not doing that.

(on the merits of the issue re: expelled i don't really agree with chris, but i wouldn't call him leaning toward becoming a creationist apologist)

it turns out that nearly six times as many people wanted to see an R-rated sex farce with heavily-promoted full-frontal nudity

Oh? What movie is that? I need to go see it.


Give me a break, you are coming in late on a conversation.

I'm talking about Chris's stand on how to address creationism, one I very much disagree with. I did not create a situation in which a major voice in science communication has come out in opposition to the moral stand against nefarious efforts to insinuate a particular religious view into public education and elsewhere. Chris did that. His position is in my view highly objectionable.

If a person holds a view (X) that means that they are an Xist and need to take responsibility for it. How is that a problem with me?

How do you know about my Aunt Tillie?!!

Have to agree with Greg's creationist apolgist comment - just a case of "if the shoe fits", no personal attack intended.

On topic, I think Chris should post something on what he considers a box office success, rather than reproducing a quote of Randy Olsen's opinion and proclaiming it as 'fact'. In terms of box office takings it is clearly not a success as so many have pointed out (indeed the producers said they'd consider $15m a success, a good way off).

In more important terms, has it succeeded in its aims? Has it alerted the world to the fact that fundamentalist beliefs are treated as somewhat suspect by the rational population of the world? Doesn't look like it. The film played on a small number of screens in selected areas where creationists spawn. A safe bet would be that the film has been seen by the already converted and by those who just want a laugh or the chance to feel smug/angry/scared because of the beliefs of some of their fellow countrymen.

Looks like it's a flop no matter how you look at it. Chris's attempts to spin things otherwise are truly pathetic, it's a shame to see his objectivity slipping away like this.

I noticed that Supersize Me was absent from Boxoffice Mojo's list of political documentaries. I wonder why. It's surely as political as Expelled!

My earlier comment is a mistake... Don't do math late at night. It appears that Expelled is write along the predicted line. Doesn't make it a smash but it doesn't make it a flop either.

To be fair, I don't see how one's views on whether or not Expelled is a success ought to be determined by one's position on evolution.

If Chris and Randy see Expelled as a box office success, then so what? How does that argue in the favour of intelligent design?

> whether or not Expelled is a success ought to be
> determined by one's position on evolution

It probably depends on which side of the schism you're on about Intelligent Design -- is the Diety influencing events?

Those would be:

Intelligent Wind Up, Let Go, and Just Watch It Run


Intelligent Tie It To A String or Stick and Pull or Push


Intelligent Throw Then Bob, Weave and Use Diety English to Guide It

Hey, everybody hopes for a personal miracle. Maybe pay for blogging is one of those things that might happen.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 21 Apr 2008 #permalink

Yes, it looks like a commercial flop, but up until this weekend, I think most people have rightly dealt with the ideological issues, rather than the financial ones. If the film turns a loss but it gets millions of people to watch the film and some misguided teachers screen the DVD in their classroom, can we still say it's a flop?

Let's also not forget that this lying, deceitful propagandistic mess will still motivate the faithful and convince some fence-sitters and at $3Mil for the opening weekend, it is reaching people.

I guess that's what Mooney is trying to say. It's a shame that he's so bloody awful at framing his message.

Chris Mooney, who every day seems to transmogrify more and more into a creationist apologist, makes the case that Expelled! is a box office success.

That has to be the dumbest, most asshole thing I've ever seen you write. Chris may be wrong (although I'm not as sure as you that there isn't at least a grain of truth in what he says), but there's no way he's turning into a creationist apologist.

You deserved the snark. If you had directed a comment at me, I wouldn't have been nearly as nice.

Later on:

Junior: I'm not personally insulting Chris at all.

Bullshit, plain and simple.

Orac's right, you know.

Hardest thing in the world, admitting something like that.

"seems to be turning into" is an observation about Chris.

"in my nightmare did transmogrify" is about you.

Tell us about you.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 21 Apr 2008 #permalink

So, in other words, the first guy to predict its take was right, to within about 3%. And that guy said it'd be a "dud", taking in $5 million or so before tanking altogether. (Factor out the silly sensationalism of that "surprise success" bit; as with The Passion of the Christ, we probably had people who don't normally go to movies going to see this one, but it looks like they've been a transient perturbation.)

A commenter at Ed's place said:

[A]Tupac Shakur documentary a few years ago beat Expelled's opening weekend by 1.5 million in 250 fewer theaters. I dropped the Top 100 documentaries page from Box Office Mojo into Excel to look at the per theater take and that really shows how poorly they've done. Only four of the top 100 did worse per theater than Expelled. Super Size Me made $12,601 per theater compared to Expelled's $2,997.

Given the massive advertising spend and theater realease (for a documentary that is), I still haven't seen much data to suggest that this movie is a "huge success".

By Jeff Hebert (not verified) on 21 Apr 2008 #permalink

Super Size Me opened at limited release in 48 theaters, not 1000-plus, so the per-theater figures aren't comparable.

A better measure is to compare wide-scale opening weekend to final tallies. Usually opening weekend brings between 25% and 60% of the final amount. Expelled appeals to an unusual demographic, making it harder to predict its legs, but it will likely rank as the 5th highest grossing political documentary domestically.

On the expense side, most documentaries are cheap while this one looks more expensive than average. If Stein took a salary that could figure in as well. Still it's likely to not be all that expensive compared to revenue - comparable Inconvenient Truth, an expensive film at a $1m cost.

Unfortunately, I expect it will do very well on DVD release. It probably will do poorly overseas.

All in all, hard to conclude that it will be anything other than a significant (though not record-breaking) commercial success.

We reality-based people should continue to be reality based even when we don't like the implications.

Brayton has a semi-reliable production figure of $3.5m (possible the producers exaggerated to drum up an audience):


I'll bet that Stein took a salary then to make it that expensive (compare to Al Gore who did it for free).

Brayton says several million more for publicity and $10m for total costs, all unsourced. I doubt that total, without sources.

DVDs usually make triple the revenue as box-office. At $10m total costs, there's a chance the producers won't make a profit, but I doubt that's the real figure and even if it is, they'll probably come out ahead.

I bet it isn't about profit anyway. I bet it is just going to be something to be used to berate secularist school boards and teachers by people who don't want their kids to turn into Nazi's. I bet it is going to be used by people who want to push for Academic Freedom legistlation.

The propaganda doesn't need box office, it just needs distro through blockbuster, Amazon, and churches.

It's going to continue to be a pain the arse for a long, long time.

Greg: in regards to the critics of your sense of humor, those critics are known quibblers of pedantic proprtions so fuhgettabouit....I get the joke, to whit "Chris Mooney, who every day seems to transmogrify more and more into a creationist apologist"

But besides the fact that I agree that this scandal could have been handled differently from a PR perspective, because
-->all of the free press this blog-nest has given it, and "earned media" ads and reviews are free, and create buzz. Most PR guys would agree that sciborgs have acted as dupes here.

All of the buzz has rendered the issue moot because whether it flops at the B-O or not is irrelevant compared to the DVD sales, which I am POSITIVE was Steins target market in the first place, using the a-PZists as unpaid flacks.

The buzz has legitimated the movie as a large "fact" in the minds of creationists.

By the real cmf (not verified) on 21 Apr 2008 #permalink

Then there is Flock of Dodos film maker Randy Olsons take on it:
"It's a dark day for the subject of evolution in the U.S. Two years ago I made a pro-evolution movie, "Flock of Dodos," trying to warn the evolution community they are not good with mass communication, and that the people behind the attacks on evolution are VERY, VERY good. This weekend Ben Stein's anti-evolution movie, "Expelled," had a HUGE opening, estimated to rake in over $3 million dollars. One of the top five openings EVER for any documentary."

By the real cmf (not verified) on 21 Apr 2008 #permalink

Yes, I posted on my own blog quite the opposite of what Chris Mooney said about this movie. I think it's a flop; he thinks it's not. We can disagree about that and we can do so civilly. But I'm with Orac on Greg's claim that Chris is turning into a "creationist apologist" - that's just a major league asshole thing to say and it is totally out of line. I'm also with Razib on the silly claim that you're not insulting Chris. The hell you're not, and you know it. You're accusing him of being, in essence, a liar and a fraud and a member of our collective opposition. If you're gonna make an accusation like that, you ought to at least own up to the fact that it's a serious insult.

Orac: Where where you when Chris was telling me to shut up?

Oh, right, you were telling me to shut up too.

You want snark? OK, you got it. At least Mooney has the balls to have a name ... :)

But seriously, I reserve the right to be pissed off at Chris in this context. And he does not need your help.

Ed, sorry your post got nabbed by the dungeon and I only just now discovered that and released it.

Every time Chris or Matt turn to PZ, or others, including me, and says "stop arguing the truth against the bullshit coming out of the ID camp" or "let's find a way to let certain religious people have their religious beliefs about creationism" and so on and so forth, yes, yes, yes, he (they) seem to look look more and more like creationists apologists.

Do I think Chris is a creationist? Put your reading glass on, Ed, and check this next word out: NO. Get it? You can deny that I said that, or you can chose to believe your particular interpretation of what I'm saying over what I'm saying that I'm saying. But you would be wrong.

This is not about the success of this movie. If you keep those reading glasses on and read my post, I equivocate. I don't know if the movie is a success. I don't know how one measures this, especially with a fairly unique phenomenon such as this particular movie. Could you possibly actually believe that Chris and I are arguing, or disagreeing, over whether or not Expelled is a success?

As the Expelled drama has developed, the blogger community rose to the challenge (along with others) to explain that this movie was a pack of lies. Chris and Matt came up with the brilliant idea that we should be quiet about this, that we should shut up. Because they have this theory, called "framing" and they know it works better than any other form of communication out there.

But they are wrong about framing. It has it's use, but it is not the TOE they claim it to be. And no, I do not appreciate being told to be quiet in this area of my own long-committed activism. Sorry, but truth against bullshit, the way to fight the bullshit is not to sit quietly. It is to speak, and if need be, to shout out the truth.

So yes, I'm quite pissed at Chris. And he makes himself look like a freakin creationist-symp when he does this sort of thing. That is my opinion, and it is not a rare opinion, but rather, a widely held one. Do I think he actually is a creationist? Well, see above. Perhaps Chris and Matt could do a better job of framing their position.

I do prefer to be civil, I really do. I'll get over it. I'll send Chris flowers. But on balance, this was not a good time for his comments.

I didn't say you called him a creationist; I said exactly what you said, that he was turning into a creationist apologist. You can say you're justified in being pissed all you like, but you are not justified in saying that Chris is turning into a "creationist apologist." Your anger doesn't make that statement any less idiotic than it truly is. You owe him an apology.

Ed, Your Honor, again, sorry your post got trapped. I have no idea why the dungeon gremlins like to grab your posts.

I said he "seems to transmogrify more and more into a creationist apologist" ... Why is this my fault?

Chris strenuously objected to efforts to oppose the growing publicity associated with the movie Expelled! with exhortations of the truth about the movie, its promotion, etc.. Thatis what is at issue here. I am not insulting him ... as a virtually lone voice in a sea of dissent against the onslaught of lies and absurdities, Chris does indeed seem to be transmogrifying etc. etc. That's not my gig, Ed, that's his. Go talk to him about it.

I do tend to react strongly to people telling me that my opinion about an issue like this should be kept to myself.

Sorry, Ed, judge me as you wish, I'm sticking to my guns. If anybody tells you to shut up about what is important to you politically, I'll be there for you anyway.


Opening weekend

An inconvinient truth : 4 theaters
Super size me : 41 theaters
Roger and me : 4 theaters
Expelled : 1052 theaters

So your comparisons of "per theater averages" on the opening weekend, are evidently baseless.

As a matter of fact, one cannot compare this number for a movie which starts with a wide distribution and one which starts with a few very selected locations.

So judging success or flop on this basis is ridiculous.

There have been very few documentaries that started with a wide distribution, so it is difficult to judge for the time being if this is a success or a flop.

These were :

Expelled - 1052 - $3.0 M
Fah 9/11 - 868 - $23.9 M
Tupac... - 801 - $4.6 M
Imagine. - 561 - $1.4 M
Rize.... - 352 - $1.6 M
End.Summer 302 - $0.7 M

With its wide distribution, Expelled did 3rd best documentary in net revenues in its opening weekend. Now that doesn't mean success per se, as it could do poorly in the following weeks and only multiply by 2 its opening weekend as Tupac did, which would mean indeed a flop.
But it could also multiply by 4 and it then would net $12 M in total which would put it in 7th position of all documentaries behind Madonna: truth or dare, which would be considered a good result, not a huge success, but certainly not a flop.

So, please, for the time being, hold your horses and let's see what happens.

I also agree that Mooney and Randy are not entitled to call it a success.

BTW, maybe it would be helpful if you could define "creationist apologist", as it seems to me that Ed and you are having a diagreement on the term.

By negentropyeater (not verified) on 22 Apr 2008 #permalink

This is rich. Mr. "Don't Hand the Creationists Talking Points" Mooney hands the creationists talking points, and it's somehow out of line to call him out for it? No. He deserves the derision he's getting. I don't blame Greg a bit for being pissed. Feeling a tad enraged myself.

Those little bastards are going to be claiming victory no matter what happens. They'd be claiming victory if their movie made $5. They're victorious in their own minds no matter how we react. They don't need help from a Science Blogs framer who fails to frame his concession speech.

Greg. Excellent post. Thank you.

Expelled looks like it will make about 8 million dollars gross box office.


Its first full week, it did about 4 million. Its second did 2, its third did 1. It has half-life of about 1 week, and summing 4 + 1 + 1/2 + 1/4... gives you an asymptotic approach to 8 million dollars. (I don't really expect it to continue to conform so closely to a one-week half-life, but I don't expect it to stay in theaters very long, either.)

Each week for the last three weeks, its per-screen gross has dropped by about a quarter, and it has lost more than a third of its screens. (Presumably the less profitable ones, but nonetheless the per-screen gross keeps dropping.)

I think this is called "tanking."

For a movie with a thousand-screen open and a multimillion dollar ad budget, it's doing spectacularly badly.

Premise media claimed that its exit polls showed that 96 percent of its audience would recommend the movie. They made it sound like there'd be a groundswell of popularity despite the critical consensus (according to Rotten Tomatoes) that it's "a cynical political stunt in the guise of a documentary."

That was duly reported on Framing Science, in support of the idea we should Be Very Afraid of this movies's great success.

But it is not happening. The movie is fading embarrassingly quickly, as though people actually read reviews, or thought the people recommending it were kooks or something.

8 million is nothing to sneeze at. It means something like a million people will have seen this crapola in the theaters.

On the other hand, its total run gross is only about 2/3 of what Premise said their Great Big Movie would do in its opening weekend alone.

Of the 8 million gross, the Expelled folks cut is probably around 4 million, maybe 5 or so if they got a good cut on the first two weeks.

It doesn't look like they're going to make money on this one. More likely lose millions. If the higher estimates of the production + advertising budgets are right, it will lose millions and millions.

Presumably the moviemakers aren't mostly in it for the money, but the money is still important. Whether the movie is a financial success or failure has to affect the scope of their ambitions.

I think Matt, Chris, and Randy have a point that we should be disturbed that these people had deep enough pockets to put this crap in front of roughly a million people.

On the other hand, we should be very pleased that this wasn't the kind of trend-setting success they were hoping for. Its profits won't fund the next one, or inspire investors for the next one.

Paul W., thanks. I was just thinking I needed to look these numbers up when, poof, here they are.

By Stephanie Z (not verified) on 13 May 2008 #permalink