Nathan Frankowski's EXPELLED, a conservative-leaning nonfiction starring comedian/actor Ben Stein, scored an impressive box office victory this weekend over the moderate-to-slightly-liberal WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?, from documentary name brand Morgan Spurlock.
Based on initial estimates, EXPELLED, which opened on (an almost unheard of) over 1000 screens, made more than 3 million dollars for the weekend. Previously, only MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, the JACKASS films and Michael Moore's FAHRENHEIT 9/11 and SICKO appeared on more than 1000 screens at once. AN INCOVENIENT TRUTH never played on more than 600 screens.
EXPELLED, which received a lot of free advertising on conservative talk radio and blogs, was able to average nearly $3,000 per screen, by no means a blockbuster by narrative standards, but highly successful for such a widely released doc, particularly in the current climate. Distributor Rocky Mountain Pictures employed Motive Marketing, the same firm that targeted Christian audiences for THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and the NARNIA films, for outreach to the faith community. This likely blunted the force of the overwhelmingly negative critical reviews of the film, which may be the worst reviewed documentary of all time, a stat that some may write off to liberal bias, save that even the NY Post's Kyle Smith (who famously pans nearly every left-leaning doc) gives the film a mixed review (although he praises Stein in comparison to Michael Moore).
The success of EXPELLED marks the first time that a conservative-targeted nonfiction film has made a mark at the box office. For years there have been questions as to why there wasn't a conservative strand of documentary and why film festivals seem to exclusively screen docs with a liberal, activist tilt. Reasons given often revolved around dual arguments of quantity and quality. While EXPELLED may not satisfy the quality question, its success suggests that there is a market for other conservative docs, particularly if a filmmaker was able to score a high profile figure like Stein and follow a similar marketing path. Is the Glenn Beck anti-Gore film far behind?
Meanwhile, it was box office disappointment for the Weinstein Co.'s WHERE IN THE WORLD, the latest from SUPER SIZE ME wunderkind Morgan Spurlock. Hampered by negative reviews of its own and sure to inspire another round of tired "Americans are sick of movies about the war" articles/arguments, the film averaged just over $1,400 per screen (or less than half of EXPELLED). Playing on 102 screens, the film will end the weekend with more than $140,000 and may have trouble making it to half a million. By comparison, SUPER SIZE ME made 11.5 million on its release in 2004.
Doing better per screen than both EXPELLED and OSAMA was YOUNG@HEART, which expanded to 33 theaters and averaged more than $4,300 per. Also continuing its successful run is Martin Scorsese's SHINE A LIGHT, now at 3.7 million.
More on the documentary box office this week...