Professor of Religious Studies, Iowa State University
Posted April 22, 2008
Over at the Discovery Institute website, there is the expected hyperbole about Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which aspires to be the Fahrenheit 911 on behalf the pro-Intelligent Design movement. http://www.evolutionnews.org/2008/04/expelled_audience_in_iowa_give.html
The film debuted at the Varsity Theater in Ames, Iowa on Friday night (April 18). Ames is important because it is the home of Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez, the pro-ID astronomer, who lost his tenure bid at Iowa State. He contends that it was purely because of his Intelligent Design work, while his opponents contend that ID either was not a factor or it was not the most important factor.
In any case, the headline of the Discovery Institute reads “Expelled in Iowa gives Standing Ovation to Persecuted Astronomer.”
I hate to rain on this parade, but the DI expels a few important facts out of its glowing assessment. I know because I also attended the very same showing of the movie (including a Q&A session with Dr. Gonzalez). I also appear in the movie (if very briefly).
First, the audience was very enthusiastic because it was mainly composed of pro-ID supporters, some seemingly members of Dr. Gonzalez’s own church. He stood out and greeted his supporters as though it were a combination of a church meeting, a parting ceremony, and a wake. A man in back of me clapped when prayer in school was mentioned in the movie.
So, in essence, the film was preaching to the choir, and it is not going to persuade anyone of ID’s validity or of evolution’s defects. The main reason is the apalling scientific and historical inaccuracies.
But, more importantly, the DI is not reporting what happened the very next night. My wife attended the first evening showing on Saturday evening, and she reported that the theater she was in (the Varsity has twin theaters) was only a quarter full. In other words, there had been a 75% drop in attendance from the first night. Admittedly, this was mostly an impressionistic, rather than a precise, box office tally.
However, even a half-full theater is a defeat for Expelled in Ames. After all, that is one place where you would have expected the most sustained interest. But after the church folks were there on Friday night, few people in the community seemed interested in seeing it on Saturday night. Expelled can be extremely boring, at times, and the narrative very turgid for those not familiar with all the characters and issues.
This bodes very badly for Expelled in its future overall take. Already, the official counts (recorded at http://www.boxofficemojo.com/daily/chart/?sortdate=2008-04-18&p=.htm) registered a drop of 17% in receipts from Friday to Saturday. The overall weekend take was $1.3 million, when the expected totals had been about $12 million. By contrast, Fahrenheit 911 boasted an $8.7 million dollar take its first day ($23.9 million total gross), according to http://www.pandasthumb.org/.
In sum, I expect Expelled to lose steam rapidly now, leaving only the choir to sing its praises. Of course, they can always bus in more ID believers and get their numbers up again or sell the DVDs to church groups. But Expelled has bombed in the broader American community.
For another report from Ames, with a brief video interview with me about Expelled, see http://media.www.iowastatedaily.com/media/storage/paper818/news/2008/04/21/News/Movie.Sparks.Intelligent.Design.Debate-3336444.shtml.