Stores expectant as inspirational movies make waves with media, at the box office
Faith-based movies are making waves in theaters and bringing hopes of a high tide for Christian retailers. Ancillary product tie-ins and DVD sales present opportunities for stores to benefit from the strongest mainstream media buzz about Christianity on screen since Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ in 2004.
While the success of Fireproof prompted some headlines in 2008, a bumper crop of recently released and forthcoming faith-based productions has drawn widespread attention.
Among them is Oscar-nominated The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock and based on the true story of an unabashedly Christian, white family's adoption of a homeless African-American teen who becomes a football star.
Family Christian Stores (FCS) offered a pre-buy special for last month's DVD release of The Blind Side, with the chain announcing that it would give a portion of proceeds from sales to provide tuition assistance for Christian education to foster children.
Meanwhile, thanks to grass-roots support from Christians—similar to that which helped Fireproof debut in theaters—teen-oriented movie To Save a Life prompted numerous news reports when it premiered in January. The film had "a decent opening" despite its limited release, according to the Los Angeles Times, which noted strongest ticket sales in smaller markets.
Produced by evangelism and church resource organization Outreach and distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films, the movie—made for $500,000—had earned more than $3 million at press time, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen suicide and drinking, To Save a Life stars Randy Wayne (The Dukes of Hazzard, The Last Hurrah) and Deja Kreutzberg (Law and Order) and revolves around an all-star athlete forced to make major changes in his life.
To Save a Life also featured several retail-related Outreach products, including a novelization by screenwriters Jim and Rachel Britts and Devo2Go—an interactive audio devotional featuring members of the cast—as well as curriculum and student kits. The theatrical release was to be followed by church-based screenings, with a DVD release set for later this year.
FCS Divisional Merchant Manager Tim Way called To Save a Life "not your standard Christian film. The approach is raw, but to be less so would be unrealistic."
Also released in January was Preacher's Kid, which stars former Destiny's Child member LeToya Luckett. Made by Gener8Xion Entertainment, affiliated with Trinity Broadcasting Network and the company responsible for The Omega Code and One Night With the King, the film—billed as a modern-day version of the Prodigal Son story—debuted in 100-plus theaters in 33 cities nationwide.
Meanwhile, Letters to God—directed by David Nixon, one of the producers of Facing the Giants and Fireproof—is scheduled to hit 750 theaters nationwide April 9. Inspired by a true story, the movie is about 8-year-old brain cancer patient Tyler (Tanner McGuire, House, M.D.; Lost), whose prayers take the form of letters to God, which he composes and mails daily.
Following the grass-roots efforts by the makers of Fireproof and To Save a Life, the movie's promoters recently traveled nationwide to rally support from local church leaders for the film.
Related products include the Hope Is Contagious boxed cards from DaySpring and the God's Got My Back tees, hoodies and water bottles from Hope Apparel. Zondervan released last month Letters to God: A Novel by the movie's co-director Patrick Doughtie and John Perry; the Letters to God Bible from Robert Wolgemuth, general editor; a picture book and journal.
Meanwhile, filming recently began in Oahu and Kauai, Hawaii on the inspirational life story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, a Christian who, at age 13, had her left arm bitten off by a tiger shark in October 2003.
Based on Hamilton's Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board (MTV Books), which was sold in some Christian bookstores, the film, also called Soul Surfer, currently does not have a release date.
The movie stars AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany; Dennis Quaid as her father, Tom; Helen Hunt as Bethany's mother, Cheri; and Carrie Underwood as church youth leader Sarah Hill. Bethany, now 19, has become a top-performing pro surfer despite her injuries.
Soul Surfer is being made by Mandalay Vision, Brookwell McNamara Entertainment and Life's A Beach Entertainment, and to be distributed by Affirm Films—the faith label of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Meanwhile, Courageous—the follow-up to Fireproof—is being marketed by Provident Films, in association with Affirm Films. Courageous is scheduled to be released in theaters in 2011 and set to begin filming in late April or May in Albany, Ga.
Sony Pictures Entertainment and Affirm Films called Soul Surfer Hamilton's "story of loss, courage and faith in God."
"Bethany's story exemplifies personal faith, family unity, the guiding influence of a Christian youth-group leader and the trust of a 13-year-old girl who, weeks before the accident, began praying that God would make clear her purpose in life," said Lovell-Fairchild Communications, the public relations firm that is publicizing Soul Surfer to the Christian retail channel.
Doug Schwartz, co-writer of Soul Surfer's screenplay, added: "I've been a writer and producer for the past 32 years, and I've never encountered a more inspiring true story than Bethany Hamilton's. The movie will encourage people worldwide to rise above adversity."
Hamilton's autobiography has sold nearly 1.5 million copies since its publication in 2004. A sequel, Soul Surfer–Now a Movie, is planned in conjunction with the theatrical release.
Elsewhere, the third movie in "The Chronicles of Narnia" film series is scheduled to hit theaters Dec. 10. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley), along with their cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter)—find themselves swallowed into a painting and onto a fantastic Narnian ship headed for the edges of the world.
Walt Disney Pictures dropped its plan to co-finance Dawn Treader last year, but 20th Century Fox agreed to partner with Walden Media. The second movie in the "Narnia" series, Prince Caspian—which had a $215 million production budget—was considered a disappointment in 2008, earning $419 million worldwide, a drop from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's worldwide total of $745 million.
Disney balked at the cost of Dawn Treader, which is projected to have a $140 million production budget, and opted out. The "Narnia" agreement with Disney was at one time said to include a total of nine features based on the popular books by author C.S. Lewis.