As the pro-intelligent design film Expelled comes out in DVD this week, the ads crow that it is the top-grossing documentary of the year. But its record has been eclipsed by the anti-religion film Religulous after only two weeks in fewer than half the theaters “Expelled” was shown in.
According to the LA Times:
“Expelled,” hosted by commentator and character actor Ben Stein, opened April 18 at a whopping 1,052 theaters and grossed a total of $7.7 million at the domestic box office during its full run, according to data tracker Box Office Mojo.
That was nothing like the breakout blockbusters “Fahrenheit 9/11” ($119.2 million), “March of the Penguins” ($77.4 million) or even “An Inconvenient Truth” ($24.1 million), but nothing to sneeze at either: It was the 12th-highest gross ever for a documentary….
“Religulous,” playing at 568 theaters, is benefiting from positive word of mouth. The controversial documentary, hosted by comedian Maher (“Politically Incorrect”) and directed by Charles (“Borat”), dropped only 35% in its second weekend, compared with the industry average of about 51%. By Monday it had topped $7 million, on pace to surpass $7.7 million by Friday and ultimately to a spot in the all-time top 10 for the documentary genre.
Both are unabashed advocacy films starring popular television figures who have appeared both as comics and commentators. “Expelled” urges schools to add the religiously-based intelligent design theory to biology classes and argues that excluding it is a form of harassment. “Religulous” argues that religion is responsible for anti-intellectual, fundamentalist behavior that is a serious threat to human survival.
Imperfect as these films are, the good news is that there is an audience for this kind of provocative material that challenges assumptions on all sides and gets people talking about faith, science, and politics. I look forward to seeing what comes next.