Easter weekend box office and ratings: Superstar hits, God’s Not Dead 3 misses, I Can Only Imagine continues to exceed expectations

Just a few quick notes on how religion-ish movies and TV shows did this Easter weekend.

First, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert — which I have not yet seen, though I did write about Christian responses to previous versions of Superstar for Christianity Today — was the top-rated TV show on Sunday night, with 9.6 million viewers.

That may be the biggest audience that any major-network adaptation of the Bible has had in recent years. It beats the 6.6 million viewers who watched 2016’s quasi-live musical version of The Passion, it trounces the 3.3 million viewers who watched the Of Kings and Prophets premiere in 2016 (the show was cancelled after two episodes), and it’s even ahead of the 9.5 million viewers that A.D. The Bible Continues had at its peak in 2015 (all but three episodes of that show landed between 3 million and 6 million viewers).

Among recent live musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar seems to have landed somewhere in the middle — slightly ahead of Hairspray (9.1 million viewers in 2016) and Peter Pan (9.2 million viewers in 2014), well ahead of A Christmas Story (4.5 million viewers in 2017) and The Passion, and somewhere behind The Wiz (11.5 million viewers in 2015), Grease (12.2 million viewers in 2014) and The Sound of Music (18.6 million viewers in 2013).

Second, God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness — the third installment in the God’s Not Dead series — failed to crack the weekly top ten at the box office.

The film earned only $2.7 million on 1,693 screens between Friday and Sunday, landing it in 12th place and giving it the lowest per-screen average ($1,589) of the top twelve. It made less than half of what God’s Not Dead 2 opened to in 2016, and less than a third of what the first film opened to when it premiered in only 780 theatres in 2014.

God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness also marks the fourth time in a row — following Samson six weeks ago and Same Kind of Different as Me and A Question of Faith last year — that a major release from Pure Flix Studios has failed to crack the top ten.

Pure Flix’s next release will be Unbroken: Path to Redemption, a sort of unofficial sequel to Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken depicting the main character’s conversion to Christianity — a key part of the story that many Christians and other fans of the book felt was conspicuously missing from Jolie’s film adaptation. The film comes out October 5.

Third, I Can Only Imagine and Paul, Apostle of Christ had two of the best holds of the top ten, dropping only 23.3% and 33.2% from the previous weekend, respectively.

I Can Only Imagine grossed $10.4 million, which is easily the best that any “faith-based” movie has done in its third week aside from The Passion of the Christ. And with $55.3 million in the till to date, it is already the eighth-highest-grossing “faith-based” film of all time in North America. (It is also currently the eighth-biggest movie of the year.)

Paul, Apostle of Christ grossed $3.5 million and raised its domestic total to $11.5 million. The film has earned another $667,528 overseas for a global total of $12.2 million.

And speaking of foreign releases, Deadline reports that Mary Magdalene — currently playing on every continent except for Africa and Antarctica, but not in the United States or Canada — has earned only $8.3 million worldwide, as of Easter Sunday.

That’s a far cry from the $88.6 million that director Garth Davis’s previous film Lion earned overseas, to say nothing of the $140.3 million it earned worldwide.

Here are some stats re: the new “faith-based” films and their box-office performance:

I Can Only Imagine had the second-highest third-weekend gross:

  1. 2004 — The Passion of the Christ — $32.1 million / -39.7%
  2. 2018 — I Can Only Imagine — $10.4 million / -23.3%
  3. 2014 — Heaven Is for Real — $8.6 million / -40.1%
  4. 2015 — War Room — $7.8 million / -18.0%
  5. 2014 — God’s Not Dead — $7.8 million / -11.8%
  6. 2016 — Miracles from Heaven — $7.3 million / -25.2%
  7. 2017 — The Shack — $6.0 million / -40.0%
  8. 2014 — Son of God — $5.5 million / -46.7%
  9. 2011 — Soul Surfer — $5.4 million / -25.2%
  10. 2006 — The Nativity Story — $4.7 million / -18.5%

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I Can Only Imagine had the fourth-highest third-weekend per-screen average of any film that played in at least 500 theatres (all of the films below had played in at least 875):

  1. 2004 — The Passion of the Christ — $32.1 million / $9,975 avg.
  2. 2015 — War Room — $7.8 million / $4,719 avg.
  3. 2014 — God’s Not Dead — $7.8 million / $4,416 avg.
  4. 2018 — I Can Only Imagine — $10.8 million / $3,844 avg.
  5. 2008 — Fireproof — $3.1 million / $3,590 avg.
  6. 2014 — Heaven Is for Real — $8.6 million / $2,936 avg.
  7. 2011 — Courageous — $3.3 million / $2,723 avg.
  8. 2002 — Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie — $3.9 million / $2,470 avg.
  9. 2011 — Soul Surfer — $5.4 million / $2,427 avg.
  10. 2016 — Miracles from Heaven — $7.3 million / $2,300 avg.

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I Can Only Imagine currently has the eighth-highest total gross within the genre:

  1. 2004 — The Passion of the Christ — $370.8 million
  2. 2014 — Heaven Is for Real — $91.4 million
  3. 2015 — War Room — $67.8 million
  4. 2016 — Miracles from Heaven — $61.7 million
  5. 2014 — God’s Not Dead — $60.8 million
  6. 2014 — Son of God — $59.7 million
  7. 2017 — The Shack — $57.4 million
  8. 2018 — I Can Only Imagine — $55.3 million
  9. 2011 — Soul Surfer — $43.9 million
  10. 2017 — The Star — $40.9 million

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Paul, Apostle of Christ currently ranks 18th in terms of total gross among Bible movies released over the last 40 years (and 15th among films from the last 20 years):

  1. 2004 — The Passion of the Christ — $370.8 million
  2. 1998 — The Prince of Egypt — $101.4 million
  3. 2014 — Noah — $101.2 million
  4. 2014 — Exodus: Gods and Kings — $65 million
  5. 2014 — Son of God — $59.7 million
  6. 2017 — The Shack — $57.4 million
  7. 2009 — Year One — $43.3 million
  8. 2017 — The Star — $40.9 million
  9. 2006 — The Nativity Story — $37.6 million
  10. 2016 — Risen — $36.9 million
  11. 1981 — History of the World, Part I — $31.7 million
  12. 2016 — Hail, Caesar! — $30.5 million
  13. 2016 — Ben-Hur — $26.4 million
  14. 2002 — Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie — $25.6 million
  15. 1979 — Monty Python’s Life of Brian — $20 million
  16. 1980 — Wholly Moses! — $14.2 million
  17. 2006 — One Night with the King — $13.4 million
  18. 2018 — Paul, Apostle of Christ — $11.5 million
  19. 1988 — The Last Temptation of Christ — $8.4 million
  20. 2016 — The Young Messiah — $6.5 million
  21. 1985 — King David — $5.1 million
  22. 2018 — Samson — $4.7 million
  23. 2003 — The Gospel of John — $4.1 million
  24. 2007 — The Ten Commandments — $952,820
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