In its first weekend, the creationist propaganda film Expelled either was either hugely successful or a terrible flop, depending on how you look at things. As an “almost giddy” Chris Mooney pointed out, Expelled is the eighth-highest grossing political documentary in the US. It also had the second-highest opening weekend, bringing in $3,153,000. Sounds like a huge hit.
Or maybe it’s a flop. Brian Switek said considered it to be “on track to be a box-office bomb”.
Hemant Mehta compared Expelled‘s $1,130 per screen opening weekend with $12,601 per screen for Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me, $20,063 per screen for Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, and $70,332 per screen for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Nikki Finke’s made an important point:
So much for the conservative argument that people would flock to films not representing the “agenda of liberal Hollywood”.
So what is it – an success or a flop? What is the baseline against which you could declare it a success or a failure? Expelled is, as Mooney described it, “the eighth-highest grossing [political documentary] of all time”, but that doesn’t take into account the fact that it also had the largest opening for a political documentary (1,052 screens). The closest comparison was An Inconvenient Truth Farenheit 9/11, which opened on 868 screens and grossed $23,920,637 on its opening weekend. Only three other political documentaries have opened on more than 100 screens. Combine the number of screens upon which the movie opened with the campaign to pay kickbacks to Christian schools for bringing students to see the movie. Taking all this into consideration, it seems to me that the “revenue per screen” is a much better measure of the success of the movie than is the total gross revenue.
Update: Razib comes to a very similar conclusion.