Marriage, temptation, money. These are the themes that drive America’s favorite reality TV shows.
Throw in faith and a whole lot of prayer and you’ve got “War Room.” So it shouldn’t come as a shock that this film, made on a $3 million budget, has pulled in $40 million since it opened Aug. 28. Its first weekend, it came in second only to “Straight Outta Compton.” Labor Day weekend, it took the top spot. Last weekend, it held strong at No. 3. Because Jesus.
Still, it’s the big Hollywood surprise. Critics credit a slow season for films and little competition for the box office victory of the little Christian movie that could. And that’s true, somewhat.
But I guess it hurts them to admit the movie could possibly be any good. “War Room” was made by Alex and Stephen Kendrick — the same duo behind the faith-based “Fireproof” and “Courageous.”
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Their latest, starring celebrated Christian author Priscilla Shirer (daughter of the famous Rev. Tony Evans), is their biggest success yet. They prayed on it and reached out to churches for help.
“We intentionally showed the film to pastors and community leaders to get their support,” Alex Kendrick, the movie’s director, told The Washington Post. Smart marketing. He wasn’t worried about the bad reviews or lack of attention in New York or Los Angeles.
“Our bull’s-eye audience are people of faith and the church, and we are trying to call them to a more devoted and sincere walk and that they express faith with conviction and sincerity.”
Yes, it makes sense to target the religious-minded. I’m no Jesus expert, but I’m a believer. The filmmakers shouldn’t preach only to the choir. This isolating attitude is problematic.
And it’s not just the Kendrick brothers. Film critics do their part to create the division. They often refuse to acknowledge movies with Christian undertones unless they’re massively hyped and controversial, like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
Tyler Perry and Bishop T.D. Jakes have delivered successful films with a prayerful message and almost always get bad reviews. So they rarely bother to show their movies to critics in advance.
It’s popular to pile on when it comes to church cinema. The New Yorker called “War Room” sanitized Christianity. The Los Angeles Times called it an overwrought Bible-study drama. “90 Minutes in Heaven,” based on the real-life and near-death experience of pastor Don Piper, isn’t faring much better, but, on a minimal budget, it managed to make a tidy $2 million over the weekend.
Out this weekend is “Captive,” based on the true story of Ashley Smith, who was held hostage by now convicted murderer Brian Nichols. God is at the heart of this film, too. But it’s not getting the marketing push that a movie starring Kate Mara and David Oyelowo might usually bring.
“My hope is that ‘Captive’ appeals to an audience that gravitates toward faith-based movies,” Oyelowo told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “but broadens out from that to people who just want to see kinetic storytelling that is meaningful, thought-provoking, challenging and, in some ways, thrilling.”
In November we’ll get “The 33,” based on the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners. Oscar buzz surrounds it. But the film is being called a survivor drama. I guess that sounds more appealing than the truth that faith kept those men going when they were trapped underground.
It’s like we have all been brainwashed to believe faith-based films are bad and simply not meant for the secular mainstream. Why, though? I don’t think you have to be a Bible thumper or even believe in Jesus to be inspired by movies like “War Room.”
We don’t believe in real-life superheroes. Not of the cape, hyper-speed, flying and shooting lasers variety, anyway. But that doesn’t stop us from being inspired by Spider-Man and Wonder Woman. We flock to movie theaters to see our comic book favorites. Even when we haven’t read the origin stories, we gladly pay for tickets. So why do we slam the brakes when it comes to watching Christian films?
The themes are often the same. Good versus evil, digging deep into yourself and making positive changes, putting others before yourself. But as I watched “War Room,” I found myself smirking when an old woman thwarted a knife-carrying thief by telling him to “Stop in the name of Jesus.”
I had to check myself. That woman saving herself with strong convictions is just as believable as a man in tights and a cape scaring off some bad guy. I won’t likely try that move, but the movie inspired me to lean into my faith and be a little more selfless. And I’ve felt the same after “X-Men” and “The Dark Knight.”
I’m not saying every Christian movie is the finest cinematic art. But the houses of Marvel and D.C. Comics aren’t flawless, either. If you can believe a hero is in a comic book, you can believe one is in the Bible, too. At the very least, you can be encouraged.
Think about it. You don’t have to change your religion to be inspired.