“I Can Only Imagine” opened third at the U.S. box office this past weekend as the Easter season heralds two more faith-based films.
The saga of forgiveness and triumph based on the hit MercyMe ballad brought in $17 million from just over 1,600 locations March 16-18, based on Box Office Mojo statistics, far exceeding industry insiders’ advance projections of $12 million. It was the best opening of a faith-based film since “Heaven is for Real” opened at $22 million in 2014.
Affirm Film’s “Paul, Apostle of Christ” opens March 23, followed March 30 by Pure Flix’s “God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness.” The latter is the third installment of the “God’s Not Dead” series highlighting freedom of speech and religion, which debuted in 2014 as the highest grossing faith film that year at $60 million, according to Pure Flix Studio.
I Can Only Imagine, the fourth feature film of co-directors and brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin, has already more than recouped its $7 million budget, Box Office Mojo said. Word of mouth, media attention, grassroots marketing and social media sharing helped buoy the film, Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions said in a March 18 press release.
“This is Roadside’s highest grossing opening ever,” Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen said. “When we first saw this incredibly well-crafted, emotional and moving film, we jumped on the opportunity to work with the Erwins and their team and our partners at Lionsgate. … And we were not disappointed. With an A+ Cinemascore, we expect I Can Only Imagine will continue to play solidly through the Easter holiday and well into spring.”
Disney’s and Marvel Cinematic Universe’s fantasy “The Black Panther” was first at the box office for the fifth consecutive week, followed in second spot by the Warner Bros.’ new release “The Tomb Raider,” according to industry statistics.
Paul, Apostle of Christ
Shot on location in Malta, the movie looks at the last years of Paul’s life and the perseverance of fellow Christians such as Luke under the religious persecution of Emperor Nero in Rome. Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” stars as Luke, joined by Downton Abbey’s James Faulkner in the title role.
The movie “brings to life on screen the powerful story of a man who changed the course of history through his committed faith, yet at great cost to himself,” director and screenwriter Andrew Hyatt said in a press release at PaulMovie.com. “The film shows what a deadly dangerous place the Roman world was for the early Christian church, and it shows how Paul prepared the faithful to continue living out their beliefs in the face of it.”
Producer T.J. Berden said movie makers were “committed to create a film true to the biblical account of Paul’s life but also one that is dramatic and engaging. The trials faced by early Christians and their faith and bravery in spite of them will amaze audiences.”
Joining Berden as producer is David Zelon, who produced the 2011 faith-centered “Soul Surfer.”
Promotional resources for churches are available at PaulMovie.com.
God’s Not Dead
Reprising his role as “Pastor Dave” from the first installment, David A.R. White witnesses the church he leads, St. James Church, destroyed by fire amid contention over its location on the campus of a public university.
Enter his estranged brother and atheist lawyer “Pearce,” portrayed by Golden Globe nominee John Corbett of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” to defend the church’s right to exist on campus. The resulting drama tests the pastor’s mantra that “God is good all the time.” Joining White from the first installment are Shane Harper, who played college freshman Josh Wheaten, and Benjamin Onyango as Reverend Jude. Academy Award winner Tatum O’Neal is also featured.
The film will hopefully entertain while encouraging Christians to share their faith, Pure Flix founding partner Michael Scott said in a press release at God’sNotDead.com.
“Audiences have continued to show support and interest in the God’s Not Dead films and their relatable characters who endure similar challenges in their personal faith and lives,” Scott said. “Our hope is that these films offer entertainment and encouragement, with a starting point for sharing faith in a respectable and compassionate manner.”
Pastor Dave represents good people everywhere who struggle with bad things, even those of their own making, White said in movie production notes.
“There are many times life doesn’t go like we think it should or we want it to,” White said. “Rev. Dave goes through a lot in this movie – but that’s life. What is endearing about this film is that this character is just an everyday man [whom] hopefully everyone can relate to.”
Michael Mason is the film’s writer and director.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)