Take that, Friedrich Nietzsche.
The biggest surprise this weekend at the box office was not the success of “Divergent,” which was widely expected to be the far-and-away frontrunner (and was, with an estimated $55.0 million). Nor was it the weak opening of “Muppets Most Wanted” (debuting at No. 2, with an estimated $16.5 million). Rather, it was the movie that opened in fifth place, “God’s Not Dead.”
Unlike the two big-budget movies at the top, both of which opened on more than 3,200 screens, “God’s Not Dead” was released by the small independent distributor Freestyle on just 780 screens, and yet the star-free picture (unless you count 1990s TV hunks Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain as big stars) earned an estimated $8.6 million, averaging a healthy $10,979 per screen. (“Divergent” averaged $14,228, while “Muppets” averaged just $5,170.) Most notably, “God’s Not Dead” was an explicitly Christian-themed movie, of the sort that usually top out around $6 million over their entire theatrical run.
How did “God’s Not Dead” buck the trend for such movies and crack the top five? Here are some possible reasons:
It’s the year of the Bible movie. As Christian audiences are aware, between the current hit “Son of God,” next week’s much-anticipated “Noah,” Ridley Scott’s forthcoming “Exodus,” and other movies in the pipeline, 2014 (and 2015) will see a number of mainstream Hollywood movies based on Bible stories. Whether the faithful find these blockbusters satisfying or not, such movies encourage enthusiasm in the marketplace for homegrown Christian parables like “God’s Not Dead.” At the very least, they encourage Christian non-moviegoers who tend to shun the multiplex to get into the habit of moviegoing.
It’s pre-sold. As is often the case with such films, direct marketing to churches and church groups resulted in heavy group pre-sales. In fact, “God’s Not Dead” was so heavily pre-sold that it was the No. 3 movie on Friday, not the No. 5 movie, pulling ahead of all but “Divergent” and “Muppets Most Wanted.” (Then again, those pre-sale Friday numbers tend to cause an artificial drop over the rest of the weekend.)
It’s contemporary. Christian movies with modern-day settings, like this one, or “Courageous,” or “Fireproof,” tend to open between $6 and $9 million. Period movies, like “Christmas Candle,” are lucky to earn half that much during their entire run.
SOURCE: Gary Susman