"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," the pro-intelligent design documentary featuring actor Ben Stein, made history this weekend as it propelled full speed into the top 10 box office. It opened as the widest and one of the most commercially successful releases for any documentary film.
In an impressive opening weekend, the film debuted at No. 9 at the box office, earning a respectable $3.2 million while only appearing on 1,052 screens.
"Leatherheads," the story of a struggling football team based in Duluth, Minnesota, and written and directed by George Clooney, trailed the new documentary film, placing at only No. 10 its third week at the box office, despite showing at over twice as many screens.
Although the new pro-intelligent design documentary had struggled with a reported marketing and production budget that ranged only in the single digit millions – a miniscule figure compared to the standard $117 million regularly burned by Hollywood productions – the film proved to defy expectations and panning by critics.
From the beginning of its conception, the film had been heavily criticized by scientists who dismissed the film as inaccurate, misleading, and dishonest in its portrayal of the shortcomings of evolution.
Reviewers were also among the film's vocal critics, and in an article written for the Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore was among those who believed the film would fail commercially, describing the film as a "mockery."
"'Expelled' is a full-on, amply budgeted Michael Moore-styled mockery of evolution, a film that dresses creationist crackpottery in an 'intelligent design' leisure suit and tries to make the fact that it's not given credence in schools a matter of 'academic freedom,'" Moore wrote in his description of the film.
Producers of the film, however, had hoped that while disadvantaged and outmanned in the realm of Hollywood, active marketing and outreach with Christian groups and homeschoolers could help propel the movie, in the manner of David versus Goliath, into a box office hit – a strategy that appears to have worked.
In one such campaign, the producers of the film offered to award as much as $1,000 in a contest among church groups to bring the largest crowds to see the film.
Christian groups in general proved to be receptive to the film's message.
Anthony Horvath, executive director of the Athanatos Christian Ministry, an online apologetics academy dedicated to the defense of the Christian faith, praised the film.
"The outrage expressed by the atheistic community at Ben Stein's movie, 'Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed' has been so palpable you could bottle it up and sell it as an energy drink. They are practically foaming at the mouth," he said in a statement.
"The blogosphere reveals the utter disdain that the hard core atheists have for anyone who merely suggests that it might be possible to scientifically detect design. If all Stein's movie accomplishes is revealing more publicly what many in the scientific community have been saying quietly all along, that is a major accomplishment," he added.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, gave the film a thumbs up, commenting, "I think it should be required viewing for anyone who wants to understand what is going on and what is at stake in the debate over worldviews in this society," according to Baptist Press. "This is one of these times when you can vote with your pocketbook. You can vote with your economic franchise, and Hollywood will listen when they see the dollar signs."
"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," is a feature-length documentary film about researchers, professors, and academics who claim to have been marginalized, silenced, or threatened with academic expulsion because of their challenges to some or all parts of Darwin's theory of evolution. Makers of the documentary said the movie doesn't seek to champion intelligent design as the sole truth but calls for more academic freedom, where challenges to any scientific theory including Darwinism would be fairly considered.