War Room sets a new milestone for “faith-based” films

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Might as well note this milestone: In 1999, The Omega Code stunned the movie world by becoming the first evangelical Christian movie to crack the weekly box-office top ten. Now, in 2015, War Room has become the first such film to reach #1.

Written and directed by the Kendrick brothers, War Room made $11.4 million in its first weekend last week — a record for a film of this sort, beating the $9.2 million that God’s Not Dead opened to last year — and it is estimated that the film will earn another $12.5 million over the four-day Labour Day weekend.

That would give the film a total gross, after just eleven days, of $27.8 million — just a few million shy of the $30 million or so earned by the last two Kendrick brothers movies, Fireproof ($33.5 million) and Courageous ($34.5 million).

War Room was #2 in its first week, behind the third week of Straight Outta Compton. But that other film slipped faster at the box office this week, allowing War Room to pull ahead in what is traditionally a rather slow Labour Day weekend.

It’s interesting to compare and contrast War Room with The Omega Code, and to see how things have changed over the years between those two films.

The earlier film had a reported budget of $8 million, a handful of “name” actors (such as Michael York) and a global-conspiracy plot, was released initially to only 304 theatres, opened to $2.4 million and eventually grossed $12.6 million.

The newer film has a reported budget of $3 million, no “name” actors at all, a much more modest story rooted in personal relationships and prayer, and was initially released in 1,135 theatres, before expanding to 1,526 theatres this week — and it could conceivably earn five times its opening weekend, just like The Omega Code did. (Last year God’s Not Dead earned more than six times its opening weekend.)

One thing has remained constant over the years: complaints about the artistic quality of these films, especially where the writing is concerned. See, for example, this Christianity Today article on War Room by my friend Kenneth R. Morefield. But such criticisms are as old as the genre itself; see, for example, this post of mine on Christian critiques of Christian films from the 1970s, such as Born Again and Time to Run.

From a purely industry-oriented perspective, the box-office success of War Room should give a jolt in the arm to the “faith-based” film subculture, which had a few big hits early last year but then produced a string of box-office disappointments.

It will be interesting to see how future “faith-based” films do. Here are trailers for a few such films coming out over the next few months:

90 Minutes in Heaven (September 11):

Captive (September 18):

Woodlawn (October 16):

The Masked Saint (January 8):

Plus, of course, the Jesus-movie trifecta of Risen (January 22), Ben-Hur (February 26) and The Young Messiah, formerly known as Christ the Lord (March 11).

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