The big surprise at the box office this weekend, at least from my perspective, was the showing of Courageous, which opened at number five with $8.8 million, enough to beat a movie starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Naomi Watts, and nearly enough to top a movie starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. What’s remarkable about the showing of Courageous is that most of us — the heathens, at least — don’t know a goddamn thing about the film. It was written, directed, and stars Alex Kendrick, who is something of the Tyler Perry of Christian films: This is his third film to break the top 20 among Christian films, all time, including Fireproof and Facing the Giants. No one you’ve ever heard of stars in Courageous, and there was probably even less mainstream marketing for this film than for Creature a few week ago. The difference, of course, is that the filmmaker behind Creature had 600 Twitter followers behind him, while Alex Kendrick has God. The Lord knows how to rally the troops and shuttle bus them to events. Eternal afterlife in heaven is an awfully good incentive to buy a ticket. Indeed, while Courageous is the most successful, it’s also the 9th Christian-themed film released in the last two years. I guess Sunday school teachers need a a day off every once in a while, too.
Here, by the way, are the 20 most successful Christian-themed films of all time. We all know the first five, but how many beyond that have you heard of? How many have you seen? (I’ve actually seen four, all while intoxicated).
1. The Passion of Christ: $370 million
2. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: $291 million
3. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: $141 million
4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: $104 million
5. The Nativity Story: $37 million
6. Fireproof: $33 million
7. Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie: $25 million
8. One Night with the King: $13 million
9. The Pirates Who Won’t Do Anything: $12.9 million
10. The Omega Code: $12.6 million
11. End of the Spear: $11.9 million
12. Facing the Giants: $11.1 million
13. Courageous: $8.8 million
14. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed: $7.7 million
15. Megiddo: The Omega Code II: $6 million
16. Luther: $5.7 million
17. The Other Side of Heaven: $4.7 million
18. Left Behind: $4.2 million
19. China Cry: A True Story: $4.2 million
20. Seven Days in Utopia: $4.1 million
Elsewhere at the box office, the family film Dolphin Tale grabbed the top spot at this weekend’s slow box office, accumulating $14 million and narrowing out Moneyball’s $12.5 million in its second week. Of the four best films of the year, all released in September, only Moneyball has found much success with audiences. In two weeks, it’s made $38 million. Compare that to the soft opening of 50/50, which opened this weekend at number four with $8.8 million. The two other best films of the month, Drive and Warrior, are already winding down their box office runs, with around $30 million and $15 million, respectively. I think that at least 50/50 and Moneyball could find second life after Oscar nominations are announced.
Two other openers this weekend were essentially dead on arrival: Dreamhouse, despite a top notch cast and a prestige director in Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot), failed to muster much enthusiasm, racking up $8 million. Anna Faris’ What’s Your Number? fared even worse. Despite having the highest theater count of the four new releases this week, it only made $5.6 million.
With the exception of the Lion King ($79 million), Contagion ($64 million), and Moneyball (which should end its run at around $55 million), it’s been a weak September, even for Oscar grabby pics.
Oh, and hey! Does anyone watch independent film anymore? Take Shelter is the only indie release this weekend that created even a small ripple, making $18,000 per screen in three locations. Compare that to the pitiful showings of Matt Damon’s Margaret, which sat on the shelf for 5 years and opened with a paltry $3,750 in each of two locations, and the desultory $1,233 in each of six locations for Sarah Palin: You Betcha, which is either a documentary or a stand-up comedy movie.