Expelled’s First Weekend: Was Ben Stein Hot or Not?

So Expelled has had its first big opening weekend: huge success? Crushing disappointment? I really have no way to tell, though it certainly doesn’t seem to have done what the producers were promising.

Deadline Hollywood Daily suggests that the film has underperformed so far, and despite the huge influx of recent viewers I’ve had gloating about how the film really stuck it to those dastardly evolutionists, it doesn’t look like the film opened big enough to match the major marketing mojo spent on promoting it. Nor does the free publicity of the pro-science side’s harsh response to the film seem to have amounted for much.

Still, if i had to guess, the film is likely to be a slow burner in the theaters (i.e. stick around for a while, albeit on a smaller scale) and ultimately make huge backend bank on DVD sales.

Me, despite being a pretty unabashed critic, I’m happy whether it does well or not. While less widely celebrated propaganda is probably a good thing, I think by and large more attention given to a subject like evolution balances out the bad information that gets people excited. The film also drives a pretty nice nail into the coffin of the “the ID movement has no religious agenda” argument, and the claim that evolution, in contrast, is a similarly atheist enterprise is so weakly and selectively supported by the film that its not likely to hold up in the places it would matter.

I’ll hopefully get a chance to catch it sometime this week, and I won’t feel in the least bad about handing the producers some extra money. They can have all the cash they want to make as big of a fuss as they want.

Meanwhile, Randy Olson, producer of the “wake up scientists, creationists are better at mass communication than you” film Flock of Dodos, is bemoaning the lack of similar projects on the mainstream science side. I’m not sure I disagree with any of his points, quite, but I’m just not sure I see where he thinks such efforts would come from, how they would be organized, and so on.

It’s quite true that creationists have lots of money and media strategies and PR firms and so forth on their side, whereas most scientists and science advocates have little money for PR and even less interest in the debate. But I’m just not sure what it buys creationists over scientists other than a lot of confused, ranting fans. Broader public support could certainly create a lot of headaches for biologists and educators, but when it comes down to brass tacks a whole lot of perception still isn’t going to recreate scientific reality.

Update: The second weekend’s estimated results are in. It doesn’t look like most theaters will have much to specially justify keeping Expelled in past the standard two weeks, but honestly, this is pretty much the standard trajectory for most documentaries (few of which ever open this wide to begin with). While it came nowhere close to the official hype, this certainly seems like a modest, not tanking, take for a documentary on its own terms. For the producers, it really all comes down to how much they spent on promoting and marketing the film (apparently quite a lot: national ad buys on some of the top rated cable shows?).

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9 Responses to Expelled’s First Weekend: Was Ben Stein Hot or Not?

  1. Tina says:

    According to my source, imeonline.com, Expelled was released in 1052 theatres nationwide and grossed 3.2 million. It beat both mainstream Shine a Light and The Visitor in grosses. It will be interesting to see if it moves up.

  2. Bad says:

    Those are the same figures Nikki is referring to in saying that it underperformed. I guess it sort of all matters what ones expectations are. The filmmakers promised far more than that, including paying upfront for many of the tickets in the case of church groups and religious schools, and it opened pretty darn wide for a documentary, which is a very expensive upfront investment that I’m not sure theater chains are going to consider as a good return. You can claim that it shouldn’t be compared to Moore’s films, or that it should be compared to Spulock’s, or that it’s a big deal where it ranks in documentaries in general.

    And what sense does it make to call it not “mainstream” compared to The Visitor and Shine a Light? Did either of those films have the marketing or screen distribution that Expelled had? Were either of them airing commercials in heavily rotation during the Daily Show? Part of what you get out of box office is what you put in. Being amongst the top 15 documentaries becomes less of an accomplishment when you look and see how little money for promotion, advertising, and wide release most documentary projects have. These guys had a ton of money that they threw around.

    I think just about the only thing one can say for sure is that it was very far from the blowout one would expect and was promised from supposedly pent-up rage over the accusations made in the film.

    And, as I said, I would expect that its boxoffice will last a lot longer than normal, instead of folding up quickly as one might expect after an opening like this.

  3. JimD says:

    I did see the movie and it raised a lot of questions and revealed a lot of academic persecution in the schools and scientific circles I’ve been hearing from friends who are students or faculty. And the documentary was intended to spark debate not to prove one side is wrong or not so the points were focused more on the suppression done by the scientific community not on ID or Darwinism.

  4. Glazius says:

    I did see the movie and it raised a lot of questions and revealed a lot of academic persecution in the schools and scientific circles

    There’s a lot of academic persecution in the schools, alright, but none of it made it into Expelled.

    You won’t find anything about Christine Comer, who was fired from her job as Director of Science for the Texas Education Agency for passing on one single email announcing a lecture critical of the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy.

    You won’t find anything about Steve Bitterman, who was fired from his professorship at a community college at the age of 60 for refusing to teach the literal interpretation of Genesis.

    You won’t find anything about Paul Mirecki, the chair of religious studies at the University of Kansas, who for offering – not teaching, offering! – a course critical of intelligent design was stalked and beaten so badly he required hospitalization, and was compensated by the university stripping him of the chairmanship.

    Expelled also did not present any of the alleged “persecutions” accurately.

    Sternberg still retains an office of his own choosing at the Smithsonian, which he has not returned to but can at any time, and tendered his resignation as editor of the journal six months prior to attempting to publish a paper with no peer or associate review.

    Guillermo Gonzales was not denied tenure for championing intelligent design of the cosmos but for spending his entire probationary period doing so and bringing in almost no funding from any sources. What publications he did produce during that period were literature reviews and contained no original research.

    Caroline Crocker was employed on a course-by-course “at will” basis, as are about 40% of US college professors, and after being “blacklisted” by George Mason University she retained her associate professorship at a community college and was hired as a researcher at another university. She has since opted to give lectures on behalf of an intelligent design foundation full time, but this is by her own will, not because of any conspiracy.

    Robert Marks’ standing at Baylor University has not changed in any way. He remains a distinguished professor of engineering and continues to teach courses and conduct research. The only “slight” against him by the university was shutting down a web page for a “laboratory” which did not actually exist anywhere on campus.

    Pamela Winnick remained employed full-time by the Post-Gazette for two years after her “blacklisting”. She continues to have her articles published in the Post-Gazette, has published a book, and has branched out into writing opinion pieces for the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal.

    Michael Egnor’s “persecution” consisted of being criticized on the Internet. His employment did not suffer in any way and he received no threats, physical or otherwise. Considering you can be criticized on the Internet for stating in an open forum that the sky is blue, his experiences are not particularly anomalous.

  5. Bad says:

    To be clear, as far as the peer review controversy goes, the question is not did it get reviewed, but did it get reviewed by the industry standard: i.e. critical reviewers, as opposed to three more people in on the little pow-wow Sternberg and Meyer had concerning how to get an ID article “published.”

    You’re also overstating some of the other cases. GG most certainly had some original research in his papers. The issue was the quick dropoff after being set to work under his own power.

  6. oceallaigh says:

    Bad, I think the problem with “the lack of similar projects on the mainstream science side” is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to convey the benefits of a system that depends on one’s ability to suppress the emotions and examine data systematically, dispassionately, and (relatively) unegotistically, in terms that rile the emotions. Which, I argue, is at the core of most non-scientific modes of persuasion.

    I think the problem is deeply rooted in our society. Forty years ago, bad language on the athletic field would get you kicked off the team, if not disbarred from the sport. Now, it’s an essential motivational tool. I see this transformation of society from the more reasonable to the more visceral in lots of other places besides sports. And I’m not too happy about it. For this reason, I worry that a Richard Dawkins does more harm than good, because the tone and tenor of his arguments permit the opponents to say “See? Same as you!” And reply in kind. Which they love, ’cause they’re better and more experienced at it, and aren’t starting with a philosophical / methodological disconnect between their sales pitch and their real modus operandi.

    I’m afraid the switch to a more reasoned approach to life will take the same “generations” that the switch to today’s oooga-oooga has taken. I hope we have the time.

  7. J. J. Ramsey says:

    oceallaigh: “it’s difficult, if not impossible, to convey the benefits of a system that depends on one’s ability to suppress the emotions and examine data systematically, dispassionately, and (relatively) unegotistically, in terms that rile the emotions.”

    But science doesn’t require one to suppress emotions. It does help if one doesn’t get too attached to one’s theories, but one can certainly get excited about experimentation or searching for new things or the process of research in general. Spock is an interesting Star Trek character, but he is a poor representative of how scientists work.

  8. Bad says:

    Yeah. Scientists actually slap each other around quite a lot. Personal grudges and people getting too attached to their pet ideas is not exactly uncommon. It’s the process that weeds these things out over time, not reliance on any one person to be perfect or objective.

  9. This is very up-to-date information. I think I’ll share it on Delicious.

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