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Nothing ridiculous about 'Religulous' grosses

October 14, 2008 |  6:25 pm

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By this weekend the nonbelievers will be able to shout, "Hallelujah!"

Bill Maher and Larry Charles' "Religulous," a satiric diatribe on modern religion that opened Oct. 1, will soon pass "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," an argument for the teaching of intelligent-design theory in academia and a favorite of the faith crowd, as this year's highest-grossing documentary movie.

Which just goes to show that when it comes to religion and movies, the box office is agnostic.

"Expelled," hosted by commentator and character actor Ben Stein, opened April 18 at a whopping 1,052 theaters and grossed a total of $7.7 million at the domestic box office during its full run, according to data tracker Box Office Mojo.

That was nothing like the breakout blockbusters "Fahrenheit 9/11" ($119.2 million), "March of the Penguins" ($77.4 million) or even "An Inconvenient Truth" ($24.1 million), but nothing to sneeze at either: It was the 12th-highest gross ever for a documentary.Ctlogo_3

"Religulous," financed by Los Angeles indie film company Thousand Words at a budget of about $3 million, is being distributed domestically by Lionsgate, which has also handled such incendiary fare as "Fahrenheit 9/11" and Oliver Stone's upcoming political drama "W.," starring Josh Brolin as the president.

"Religulous," playing at 568 theaters, is benefiting from positive word of mouth. The controversial documentary, hosted by comedian Maher ("Politically Incorrect") and directed by Charles ("Borat"), dropped only 35% in its second weekend, compared with the industry average of about 51%. By Monday it had topped $7 million, on pace to surpass $7.7 million by Friday and ultimately to a spot in the all-time top 10 for the documentary genre.

"We're the anti-'Passion of the Christ,' " said producer and Thousand Words principal Jonah Smith, whose company is known for such art-house films as "Requiem for a Dream" and "A Scanner Darkly." "We're the movie for everyone else, the people who are skeptical."

-- Josh Friedman

Photo of Larry Charles and Bill Maher by Nathan Denette / Associated Press. Photo of Ben Stein by Steve Cannon / Associated Press

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