An independent Christian film with a budget of $7 million – paltry compared to Hollywood standards – shattered box office expectations in its opening weekend, proving there’s still a huge market for faith-based films in America.
I Can Only Imagine, starring Dennis Quaid and Cloris Leachman, tells the true story behind the hit song by Christian group MercyMe. In its opening weekend, the film pulled in $17.1 million from just 1,629 theaters, handily beating the $11.8 million opening of Fox 2000’s Love, Simon – the first film from a major Hollywood studio featuring a gay teen protagonist – as well as the second weekend of Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time ($16.3 million).
Jon Erwin, who co-directed the film with his brother, said the movie’s reception “surprised the entire industry, including ourselves.”
“This just shows that there is this enormous audience out there,” he added.
Erwin elaborated that the film’s success is a testament to the fact that Hollywood is largely underserving Christian audiences who wish to see wholesome, positive films with their families:
“I don’t think the industry predicted this,” Erwin said. “They really dismissed the film prior to opening weekend — almost called it a failure before we even got a chance to open it.”
The opening weekend success of “I Can Only Imagine” illustrates just how large the Christian audience is, and the movie industry should pay attention, Erwin said.
“We’re serving an under-served audience,” Erwin said.
Moviegoers want more optimistic, uplifting PG films they can enjoy with their entire families, Erwin said. He pointed to “Wonder” and “The Greatest Showman” as other examples. There are plenty of great movies that are the opposite and focus on the anti-hero, but people still want to be inspired, he said.
“We need hope like we need air,” Erwin said.
Notably, the film also was not marketed in typical Hollywood fashion. MercyMe promoted the movie on their latest tour, while production company Roadside’s marketing campaign included a big push on Christian radio. According to box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of comScore, this type of grassroots marketing was a key component in the film’s success:
“The power of grassroots marketing, consisting mainly of a strong and enthusiastic endorsement from influencers (clergy, etc.) to their respective congregations in the faith-based community, is not to be underestimated and likely had a huge impact on the performance of the film. This has been true of virtually every successful faith-based film in the modern era.”
Anyone can see that Hollywood is starved for faith, hope, and positivity. Clearly, they were wrong to write off I Can Only Imagine, and hopefully, the film’s success will encourage other Christians to film faith-based movies.
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Source: The Hollywood Reporter