There’s a new power player at the box office, one that doesn’t need an agent: God.
A string of successful films released recently have attracted faith-based audiences in droves. And it’s proving that these films – or rather, the people who see them – are a major force to be reckoned with.
It started in late February when 20th Century Fox released “Son of God,” a sort of patched-together film that mixed footage from the popular History Channel miniseries “The Bible” with new footage. It starred Diogo Morgado as Jesus, the “first Latin Jesus in an English film,” according to Chris Aronson, Fox domestic distribution chief.
“Son of God” appealed to a Latino demographic as well as a Christian one. The film became a surprise hit, and has so far made more than $58 million at the box office domestically, according to Box Office Mojo.
That far exceeded expectations. It cost less than $10 million to transfer it to the big screen, according to the Wrap.
And it didn’t matter that the film garnered dismal reviews (its score on Rotten Tomatoes, which takes a consensus of critics’ ratings, is a measly 22 percent out of 100). Filmgoers apparently got what they needed from the movie.
But it was only a sign of things to come.
On March 21, the same weekend that saw “Divergent” expectedly open at No. 1 with about $55 million and “Muppets Most Wanted” (disappointingly) open with about $17 million, the independent release (from little-known distributor Freestyle Releasing) “God’s Not Dead,” which follows the plight of a Christian college student who must prove that God exists or be failed by his atheist professor, came out of nowhere to open at No. 5 with about $9 million.
That’s no small feat, especially considering that “Divergent” opened on 3,936 screens while “God’s Not Dead” opened on only 780. It also had no big-name stars (unless 1990s “Hercules” star Kevin Sorbo counts), and it was obviously Christian themed, the likes of which don’t normally do well at the box office (similar contemporary films such as “Fireproof” usually top out around $6 million or so).
Like “Son of God,” “God’s Not Dead” didn’t fare well with critics (its Rotten Tomatoes score is a paltry 18 percent), but the film defied critics.
It also defied usual box office behavior.
A major release usually starts out big on opening weekend then falls off. But “God’s Not Dead” is the rare film to actually see growth after its opening.
The film climbed to the No. 4 spot on last weekend’s box office returns, and has now made about $35 million domestically (it had a production budget of $2 million, according to Box Office Mojo). It also added 580 theaters last week to be showing in a total of 1,758, with no signs of slowing down.
To most industry observers, this is a surprise. Others saw it coming.
Locally, Warren Theatres booked “God’s Not Dead” to open in two of its largest auditoriums – prime real estate that’s usually reserved for blockbusters.
“We knew of the demand,” said Dan Gray, vice president of operations at Warren Theatres. “We had local churches contacting us, wanting to get (the film) out to their congregations.”
He says the surge in Christian films is definitely a hot trend right now, even though they’ve been slowly building a following over the past few years. The difference now, he says, is that major Hollywood distributors are jumping on board.
“They’re saying, ‘This is a market that’s underserved, what can we do to be a part of it?’ ” Gray said. “Now we’re seeing it.”
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SOURCE: The Wichita Eagle