The movie has a complicated production history. It was originally pitched to Ben Stein as "Expelled", a documentary about "Darwinism and why it has such a lock on the academic establishment when the theory has so many holes" (in Stein's words). Scientific interviewees claimed, after the fact and without evidence, that the film was pitched to them as a Rampant Films production entitled "Crossroads", about how "the conflict between science and religion has unleashed passions in school board meetings, courtrooms, and town halls across America and beyond". When the movie began to be publicly promoted, it was back to the title "Expelled", was produced by Premise Media, and describes how "under a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator". The evolutionary biologists depicted in the movie have objected to the misrepresentation of the movie, and to the inter-cutting of their interviews with footage of Hitler and Nazi stormtroopers. In response, the producers have labeled these scientists "hypocrites".
Michael Shermer has described the rather odd circumstances of his interview for the movie "Crossroads" (Expelled's previous title) online and in Scientific American magazine. He was asked for his thoughts about firing people for working in intelligent design "a dozen times", but when he asked them for example scenarios and whether they had any other questions about the field, neither Stein nor Mathis was forthcoming. During a discussion about Darwin's links to economist Adam Smith, Stein had to leave and sit in the car outside for "twenty minutes", during which time Shermer joked with Mathis about what he could be doing in there. When he returned, some hand-held footage was shot, and Stein returned to the subject of firing people once more. Shermer describes the experience as "surreal".
Preview screenings for the movie were held for churches and other Christian groups months in advance, and by invitation only. After a movie critic was inadvertently allowed to view the film early, resulting in a negative review, a policy of requiring viewers to sign nondisclosure agreements was implemented at these screenings. Closer to release, an "RSVP" site was set up to allow members of the public to view the movie in a near-finished state. One of these was evolutionary biologist and Expelled interviewee PZ Myers. Although ejected from the screening, his anonymous guests - including fellow interviewee, biologist Richard Dawkins - were able to view the movie.
The film sets up the lecture scene as if it were an actual university lecture. While filmed at Pepperdine University, the auditorium had been rented by the producers and the lecture was not an officially sanctioned event. Pepperdine officials confirmed that the audience was made up of paid extras with only "two or three" actual students attending. Pepperdine administration claims that their student body, while overwhelmingly Christian (Pepperdine is a private Christian college), accepts evolution and does not accept the concept of Intelligent Design. Ironically, Michael Shermer, one of the "Big Science" interviewees in the movie, is a Pepperdine graduate.
The movie is being promoted by Motive Marketing, who have created several novel initiatives to raise interest in the movie. The "Expelled Challenge" will provide schools with $5 to $10 for each "Expelled" ticket stub from the first two weeks of the film's release, up to a maximum of $10,000. To "maximize your school's earning potential" they suggest a "school-wide mandatory field trip". "Adopt-A-Theatre" will provide $1000 to the five largest group ticket bookings. Anyone who took a group of 25 or more to see the movie could send in for a free Ben Stein "bobblehead" doll.
The Anti-Defamation League has condemned the film for its linking of evolutionary theory and the Holocaust: "Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry." Promoting the movie in Canada, Stein told the Vancouver Sun that "It's none of their [expletive] business".