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Sicko’s Box Office Numbers are Fuzzy, Too

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

You might be surprised which documentaries have actually earned the most…

“Sicko,” the recent Michael Moore documentary, has faced well-earned criticism because of Moore’s typical playing fast and loose with the facts. For example, Moore (and many on the left) regularly refer to “45 to 50 million uninsured Americans,” when, in fact, over twenty percent of that Census figure consists of uninsured non-citizens; the real Census figure is 37 million American citizens. Meanwhile, the Census underreports the number covered by health insurance; the Census underreports the number covered by Medicare and Medicaid; over 17 million of that number make more than the median household income, and could afford health insurance, but choose not to purchase it; and according to the Congressional Budget Office, 45% of those currently uninsured will have insurance within four months. Moreover, “lack of insurance” does not mean “lack of medical care”: federal law requires emergency rooms to take all comers. Moore's number is an exaggeration of both the size and severity of the problem.

The Transformers movie has grossed more than ten times as much, but no one suggests that this means we should rework our defense policy to be better prepared to face Decepticons.

The movie itself often gets a similarly misleading numerical gloss. Moore was lauded recently in the Huffington Post by Rose Ann Demoro, who wrote Moore’s movie is the “fourth-highest grossing documentary of all time,” and a “clear, unequivocal message that insurance companies are the problem.” On the other hand, the $22 million Moore’s movie has grossed is about two days worth of American frozen pizza sales. The Transformers movie has grossed more than ten times as much, but no one suggests that this means we should rework our defense policy to be better prepared to face Decepticons.

There are in fact more than twenty other documentaries that have grossed more money than Sicko. Some of them, like the Jackass movies or Eddie Murphy concert movies, are decidedly lowbrow (though one Village Voice critic called Jackass Number 2 the best documentary of the year); others are IMAX movies that have made their fortune through being shown to decades of schoolkids on field trips. Until now, however, no one has compiled a list of the highest-grossing documentaries in one place. Even sites such as Boxofficemojo.com and The-numbers.com that compile box office numbers fail to do so consistently within the site when it comes to documentaries. Here, for the first time, is a list of the 25 highest-grossing documentaries in the United States, without adjusting for inflation, as of August 5, 2007:

 
Rank Movie Year U.S. Gross in Millions
1

The Dream Is Alive

1985
$125.9
2

Fahrenheit 9/11

2004
$119.2
3
1998
$87.2
4

To Fly!

1976
$86.6
5

March of the Penguins

2005
$77.4
6

Jackass Number Two

2006
$72.8
7

Space Station 3-D

2002
$65.6
8
1991
$65.0
9
2002
$64.3
10

In Search of Noah's Ark

1977
$55.7
11
2000
$54.0
12

T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous

1998
$53.1
13

To the Limit

1989
$53.0
14

Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets

1984
$52.8
15

Eddie Murphy Raw

1987
$50.5
16

Mysteries of Egypt

1998
$40.6
17

The Original Kings of Comedy

2000
$38.2
18

Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip

1982
$36.3
19
2006
$30.7
20

That’s Entertainment!

1974
$26.9
21

An Inconvenient Truth

2006
$24.1
22
2007
$22.6
23

NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience

2004
$21.583
24

Bowling for Columbine

2002
$21.576
25

Magnificent Desolation

2005
$20.4
 
 
 
 
 

When not compiling movie statistics, Ted Frank is a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He directs the AEI Liability Project.

 

Image credit: Photo by flickr user allaboutgeorge.

 

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