CATEGORIES Documentary, Independent, New Releases, Box Office, Religious, Cinematical Indie, Movie News, UK Box Office, New Releases, Cinematical, UK Box OfficeUp front, let me confess an error I made regarding Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the new documentary about the Intelligent Design movement. In Friday's edition of "The (Mostly) Indie Film Calendar," I said the movie was "a documentary about how people who believe in evolution are big meanies who don't understand why 'Intelligent Design' (i.e., that God made everything) should be taught in science classes, too." This was a mistaken summary of what Intelligent Design is.
Having now watched the film -- which is terrible, filled with specious reasoning, false dichotomies, and self-contradiction -- I find that I did learn a thing or two. I had assumed that Creationism and Intelligent Design were the same thing. They are not. Creationism is the belief that God created the Earth more or less the way it's described in Genesis. Intelligent Design merely holds that certain things about life on this planet are best explained by something supernatural. Where there are gaps in scientific knowledge, ID fills 'em in.
There is plenty of overlap between Creationism and ID, of course, and I guess you could say all Creationists are also ID-ists. But you can certainly believe in ID without believing God made the world in six days. The film says that this misunderstanding is why so many scientists are so virulently anti-ID -- because they think it's Creationism, which truly doesn't have much scientific evidence in its favor.
Now then. The film opened on 1,052 screens and made $2.97 million, coming in 10th place at the weekend box office. That's the third best opening in history for a documentary, and it's already enough to make Expelled the 30th highest-grossing doc of all time. By the time it's finished its run, it will almost certainly crack the top 10. It's a terrible movie, but for a documentary, it's very successful. Those are excellent numbers. You gotta give 'em their props.
Or maybe you don't. IMDb's studio briefing for Monday (which used estimated weekend figures, not the final ones) said it "flopped," adding: "The Ben Stein documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which argued on behalf of 'intelligent design' -- that is, the biblical view of creation -- failed to bring out church groups in big numbers and settled for just $3.1 million to wind up in ninth place." Never mind the inaccurate definition of ID -- what's with the slanted assessment of the film's box office haul? Yeah, $3 million and ninth place is a lousy opening weekend for a mainstream wide release -- but Expelled is a documentary, and it played on 1,000 screens instead of the 2,000+ that are typical for a wide release. How many docs have opened in the top 10 at all?
Other box office reports haven't been quite so dismissive. Variety, the Associated Press, and AFP all mention the film's score without comment. Entertainment Weekly's Joshua Rich gives it a fair shake in his report, though, and so did Cinematical's Peter Martin in his. (Whew! That would have been awkward.)
Look, I'm not defending the film. Let me say again that it's utter crap, with jaw-dropping assertions that, for example, a belief in evolution leads to Nazism. (WTF, Ben Stein?) But I don't see how you can deny that its box office take is sizable for a documentary. To suggest otherwise is to let your bias against the film speak for you.