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Theatrical release poster
Jeffrey M. Werner
||Lions Gate Entertainment
||Toronto International Film Festival:
September 6, 2008
October 1, 2008 (limited)
October 3, 2008
April 3, 2009
May 3, 2009
Religulous (pronounced /rɨˈlɪdʒ
ʊləs/) is a 2008 American comedy/documentary film written by and starring political comedian Bill Maher and directed by Larry Charles. According to Maher, the title of the film is a portmanteau derived from the words "religion" and "ridiculous"; the documentary examines and satirizes organized religion and religious belief.
A range of views on the various world religions are explored as Bill Maher travels to numerous religious destinations, such as Jerusalem, the Vatican, and Salt Lake City, interviewing believers from a variety of backgrounds and groups, including a former member of Jews for Jesus, Christians, Muslims, former Mormons, and Hasidic Jews. He travels to Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, London and satirically preaches Scientology beliefs.
- Kathy and Julie Maher, Bill Maher's sister and his mother, respectively.
- Christians (including a self-proclaimed former Satanist) at the (purported) Truckers Chapel in Raleigh, North Carolina.
- Francis Collins, part of the Human Genome Project, an evangelical Christian, and author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.
- Jeremiah Cummings, former member of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Cummings is founder of Amazing Life World Outreach in North Carolina.
- A Franciscan who believes the Bible "means to say" homosexuality is acceptable.
- Pastor John Westcott of Exchange Ministries, which aims to help people overcome homosexuality.
- Dr. Dean Hamer, author of The God Gene, who is credited with discovering a "gay gene".
- Steve Burg, a former missionary with Jews for Jesus, on personal miracles.
- Ray Suarez, journalist and author, on the secular foundations of the United States.
- Mark Pryor, Democratic US Senator from Arkansas.
- David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who believes that everything the public knows and thinks is monitored by a tribe of sentient, extraterrestrial snakes.
- Ken Ham, Young earth creationist and founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum (Ken Ham claimed he was misled in order to obtain the interview.)
- Father George Coyne, former director of the Vatican Observatory, commenting that all of the scriptures are written around/between 2000 BC and 150 AD, and modern science has only come into existence in the last couple hundred years, and thus the scriptures in no way contain any science and should not be taught as such.
- Father Reginald Foster, Catholic priest, senior Vatican scholar, Pope's principal Latinist, commenting on Christianity now and what Jesus envisioned.
- Tourists and employees at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Florida, most prominently an actor who portrays Jesus at the attraction.
- Tal Bachman and Bill Gardiner, former members of the LDS Church (or "Mormon" Church), on the basics of Mormon religion.
- Dr. Andrew Newberg, University of Pennsylvania research neuroscientist, interested in neurotheology.
- Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, spokesman for the anti-Zionist organization Neturei Karta.
- Rabbi Shmuel Strauss, of the Institute for Science and Halacha, showing off devices enabling Jews to use technology on Shabbat without engaging in prohibited activities.
- José Luis de Jesús Miranda, founder of Growing In Grace International Ministry in Miami, Florida, self proclaimed second coming of Jesus and prophet of God.
- Reverend Ferre van Beveren of the First Universal Church of Cantheism.
- Fatima Elatik, Dutch Muslim politician, at the spot where Theo van Gogh was killed, on Islam and extremism.
- Aki Nawaz, Muslim British rapper also known as Propa-Gandhi, on his point of view and about the death threats directed against Salman Rushdie.
- Dr. Muhammad Hourani, coordinator of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation at the Dome of the Rock.
- Yehuda Etzion, a "radical Jewish activist", according the film.
- Geert Wilders, member of the House of Representatives of the Netherlands known for his critical view on Islam.
- The proprietors of Habibi Ana, a Muslim gay bar located in Amsterdam.
- Mohamed Junas Gaffar of the Taiban Mosque in Amsterdam. During the interview Gaffar's mobile telephone rings, prompting Maher's remark that he likes Gaffar's choice of ringtone (Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir").
Maher stated he used a fake title for the film to obtain interviews: "We never, ever, used my name. We never told anybody it was me who was going to do the interviews. We even had a fake title for the film. We called it 'A Spiritual Journey.' It didn't work everywhere. We went to Salt Lake City, but no one would let us film there at all." Creationist Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, who appeared in the film, was critical of what he called Maher's "deception" to obtain the interview.
The documentary was produced by Thousand Words and distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment. Originally slated for an international release date coinciding with the Christian Easter holiday 2008 (March 23), post-production delays resulting from a screenwriters guild strike pushed the release date back to at least July 11, 2008. The film was eventually released on October 3, 2008.
Religulous had an opening weekend take of $3.5 million from an early October 1 release in Los Angeles and New York City and also a limited 502 theater release, averaging $6,972 per theater making it #10 in the box office that weekend. Its per-screen receipts were almost three times those of a competing film to which it has been compared in the media, the politically conservative An American Carol, which edged out Religulous to finish at #9 over the same weekend, but had a per theater average of only $2,325. Only the #1 movie, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, at $9,020, had a higher per-screen average than Religulous.
For the second weekend, Religulous had a 35.5% drop in box office receipts and dropped to #13 with a gross of $2,200,000 at 568 theaters for a per screen average of $3,873.
To date, Religulous has grossed over $13 million after having a production budget of $2.5 million. It is currently 7th among the highest grossing documentaries in the US and is the highest grossing documentary of 2008.
Reviews for Religulous were generally positive, but with some mixed to negative reviews. The film received a "Fresh" rating of 70% from Rotten Tomatoes based on 139 reviews, and a "mixed" score of 55 out of 100 at Metacritic based on 29 reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a rating of three and a half out of four stars, and wrote: "I report faithfully that I laughed frequently. You may very well hate it, but at least you've been informed. Perhaps you could enjoy the material about other religions, and tune out when yours is being discussed. That's only human nature."
Robert W. Butler of The Kansas City Star gave the film a rating of three stars, and commented: "The film is one-sided, less a measured argument than a bunch of rants and barbed observations. But it’s also very funny, which trumps everything else." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a rating of A-, and wrote: "The movie is funny as...well, hell." The Canadian Press said the movie "delivers a laugh-out loud attack on the most sacred of cows." Christie Lemire, of the Associated Press, wrote: "If you're an atheist or an agnostic, you'll be completely on board and happy to tag along with Maher as he travels the globe asking people about their faith - everywhere from Jerusalem to the Vatican to Amsterdam, where he finds not only the Cannabis Ministry but also a Muslim gay bar (with two people in it)." John Anderson of Newsday wrote: "much that's funny, insightful and thought-provoking. But it certainly doesn't give the religious a lot of slack."
Rick McGinnis of Metro gave the film low marks, concluding that "Maher is preaching to the choir with an undisguised dishonesty that only the true believers will forgive." James Berardinelli wrote, "If the subject of religion is as important to Maher as he claims during his end comments, then he should have followed those words with actions and made a movie that's more than a sum of inauthentic interviews, ranting attacks, and obvious observations. The choir may hum along with Maher but the rest of those watching this movie will be singing the blues." Nick Schager of Slant Magazine called it an "atheistic wannabe-dissection of modern faith."
In a review for The New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote that "the movie has the same loose, on-the-road structure" as Larry Charles' previous film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and commented: "Much of Mr. Maher’s film is extremely funny in a similarly irreverent, offhanded way." Claudia Puig of USA Today wrote: "those with a taste for irreverent humor and clear-eyed analysis will find it funny, enlightening and disturbing." Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter characterized the film as "An often hilarious but relentlessly shallow attack on religious fundamentalism by humorist Bill Maher". Louis Peitzman of the San Francisco Bay Guardian wrote that "It doesn't even matter that he goes out of his way to be offensive, as he's consistently funny enough to pull it off." Scott Indrisek wrote at Style.com that: "Religulous earns many of its laughs from skillful editing, with Maher's interviews jazzed up by video clips". Ben Kenigsberg of Time Out New York gave the film a rating of three out of six stars, and wrote: "The worst scenes in Religulous are appalling for their methods; the best are appalling for their information."
Religulous received a 7.8 rating on IMDB.com
Lions Gate Entertainment released the film on DVD February 17, 2009. Special features on the DVD include a commentary with Bill Maher and director Larry Charles, deleted scenes, and extended Bill Maher monologues from around the world that were either edited down or not included in the film at all.
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