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‘Expelled’ enjoys Top 10 opening

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” finished in the Top 10 among all movies in weekend box office estimates and could be on its way to finishing in the Top 10 all-time for documentaries.

The Ben Stein film about the debate between supporters of Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design grossed $3.1 million, placing it ninth for the weekend. But its per-theater average of $2,997 -– it opened in just over 1,000 theaters, which is a third of what some movies opened in -– put it at fifth.

The Los Angeles Times’ Josh Friedman wrote that the opening was “robust for a documentary,” while Entertainment Weekly’s Joshua Rich said its gross was “very respectable” for its genre.

But in comparing it to other documentaries’ box office success, analysts struggled to find parallels. Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” opened in 868 theaters and grossed $23.9 million its first weekend for first place, although the movie’s target was a sitting president during a much-anticipated election year.

“I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison given how Michael Moore’s film was about a much more resonant topic, had broad mainstream buzz, and opened during the summer,” Rich wrote.

Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” rolled out gradually –- four theaters its first weekend, 77 its second and 122 its third. Its peak in theater count came in weeks six and seven with 587 theaters, when it had a per-theater average of $2,879 and $4,434, respectively. Conservatives no doubt will argue that Gore’s film also had the backing of the mainstream media -– something that Expelled did not. Most movie critics, in fact, blasted it.

Fahrenheit 9/11 ranks first all-time among documentaries in lifetime gross with $119.1 million, followed by “March of the Penguins” ($77.4 million), “Sicko” ($24.5 million), “An Inconvenient Truth” ($24.1 million) and “Bowling for Columbine” ($21.5 million). No. 10 on the list is “Hoop Dreams” at $7.8 million.

“Expelled … fared better than prerelease tracking had signaled,” Friedman of The Times wrote. “Its opening was robust for a documentary, though it was far from the Michael Moore-type blockbuster the producers had been hoping for.”

The 90-minute movie (PG, thematic elements, very brief language) explores the ongoing academic, legal and cultural battle between supporters of Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design, which is the belief that certain aspects of the world are so complex that they are best explained as having been created by an intelligent being, instead of by a random process. Stein interviews supporters of Intelligent Design who say they have been “expelled” — fired, shunned or ridiculed (or all three) — from institutions for their beliefs.

It has the backing of Focus of the Family’s James Dobson and the Ethics & Religious Commission’s Richard Land, who said the film should be “required viewing” for anyone who wants to know “what is at stake in the debate over worldviews in this society.”

One supporter of Intelligent Design, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s William Dembski, said the film’s impact could be significant.

“The film opens with documentary footage of the Berlin Wall going up and closes with it coming down,” Dembski wrote in a Baptist Press column April 18. “The day Darwinism and Intelligent Design can be fairly discussed without fear of reprisal represents the removal of a barrier even greater than the Berlin Wall. When future intellectual historians describe the key events that led to the fall of ‘Darwin’s Wall,’ Ben Stein’s Expelled will top the list.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press. Movie data retrieved from www.BoxOfficeMojo.com.

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  • Michael Foust