By Olanrewaju Oyedeji, with agency reports
A recently made Christian film, War Room has powered to the top of the charts, sending shock waves to US box office watchers
The low-budget movie, which is quite different in tone, structure and appeal from Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, has jumped ahead of Mission Impossible to second place in box office rankings, in what one analyst describes as ‘showing how the faithful can propel a film to success.’
Instructively, the War Room took in more than $11m in its first weekend and even as the buzz is building is almost sure to gross even greater box office gains in the weeks ahead.
A low-budget film that tells the story of a failing marriage rescued by the power of prayer has proved a surprise hit at the American box office, drawing crowds to cinemas and leaping ahead of Tom Cruise and Owen Wilson movies in the rankings.
Analysts said it was the latest example of the power of religious audiences who were prepared to ignore poor reviews to seek out films with a Christian message.
The War Room was produced for only $3 million (£2 million) – orders of magnitude less than the rest of the top 10 – but made $11 million in its first weekend.
That was enough for second place in box office figures published earlier in the week, relegating Tom Cruise and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation to third spot.
Only Straight Outta Compton, a biopic about the NWA rap group, fared better, taking in more than $13 million.
It is a remarkable result for a film that scores a poor 18% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and was panned by critics.
Michael Rechtshaffen of the Los Angeles Times dismissed it as “mighty long-winded and wincingly overwrought”.
But that has not put off the loyal band of moviegoers who look out for faith-based films or fans of Alex and Stephen Kendrick – brothers who wrote and directed the War Room – from turning out in big numbers.
Alex Kendrick, a former pastor who directs the brothers’ films, said critics failed to understand the market in which they were working.
“Critics in Hollywood are rough with us,” he told The Boston Herald. “They don’t understand why we make our movies or our worldview. But our target audience gets them and that’s who we want to draw closer to a walk with God.”
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak, told Variety: “These are the kind of outlier events that happen and wake everyone up to the fact that faith-based audiences are passionate and looking for content.”
The film’s choice of black leading actors is also credited with widening its audience among African-Americans.
And it is only the latest success in the genre for Sony, which as well as the Kendricks has put out Soul Surfer – which tells the story of a surfer whose faith helps her battle back after losing an arm in a shark attack – and Heaven is for Real – based on a book about a young boy’s apparent experiences of heaven after a near death experience during surgery.
“There is so much love for this film,” said Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution chief. “It starts with the Kendricks. They’re visionaries in this genre.”