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Is Religion Box Office Poison?

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Published on: October 28, 2015

It has been said that “religion is box office poison.” Mel Gibson disproved that 11 years ago with “The Passion of the Christ.”

But what about “Noah”? What about “Exodus: Gods and Kings”? They did badly, but they were not faithful to the Bible – neither in letter nor spirit.

Meanwhile, low-budget Christian films made by a church from Georgia show over and over that religion is not box office poison. I refer to the Kendrick brothers, who made the recent independent film success, “War Room,” which I saw recently and enjoyed and found uplifting.

It is still in the theaters – nine weekends after its opening on Aug. 28.

“War Room” is an explicitly Christian movie. The title is in reference to one’s prayer closet, where true prayer involves true spiritual warfare. The film is the latest production of the Kendrick brothers, who made “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof” and “Courageous,” among other films.

The production quality of Christian films is on the rise.

I interviewed Ray Comfort recently, who has made Internet films seen by several million people, including “180″ (about abortion) and “Evolution vs. God.” His latest movie deals compassionately and well with how to share the gospel with those trapped in homosexuality.

That movie, “Audacity,” has already begun to be widely seen. I mention Comfort because of this statement he made on my radio show: “We used professional actors because I know five minutes of cheesy acting would sink the whole ship. In past years, Christians have put up with some bad acting because [the film’s] got the gospel in it, but non-Christians won’t. They’ll just tune out right away. So we got professional actors, and I think they did a great job.”

Alex Kendrick directed and co-wrote “War Room.” His brother Stephen produced and co-wrote it, as with all their films.

“War Room” became the No. 2 box office film in America the weekend it was released and No. 1 one its second week. Not bad for a movie essentially made by a church. That church is Sherwood Church of Albany, Georgia, for which Alex and Stephen have served as associate pastors.

I spoke with Alex Kendrick many years ago, on the eve of his pro-marriage movie, “Fireproof” (with Kirk Cameron). Alex told me: “Sherwood Pictures has been around since 2002. … With each project, we enter into a season of prayer, asking God for a God idea not just a good idea.”

Sherwood Pictures in some ways is a reflection of the pastor’s vision to use stories to reach hearts. Kendrick told me, “We were challenged by our pastor, Michael Catt, to think in terms of reaching the world from where we were. And Jesus told parables. He told stories to engage people and then impart truth. This is a modern way of telling stories to engage people and impart truth. So, [using] movies has worked for us. We’ve loved that avenue since we were young, and it’s exciting to use it now to minister to people.”

Kendrick continued, “We want stories that impact and engage the culture – stories that will change lives in presenting the Lord’s truth.”

How did all their movie-making begin? Alex said, “In 2002 I had wanted to make Christians films. … We went to our pastor, Michael Catt, and said, ‘What do you think about this idea?’ and he was cautiously optimistic. He said, ‘Well, if the Lord’s in it, He’ll open doors. Let’s begin praying that way.’”

That led to a straight-to-video release of “Flywheel,” which did exceedingly well. But then their later movies made it to the theaters and have made tens of millions of dollars and have broken records.

Kendrick said, “We are so excited to see what [the Lord] has done with this. In many ways, we feel like the kid with five loaves and two fish, that we give our best to the Lord and watch Him multiply it.”

Most satisfying has been impacting people’s lives. For example, Kendrick told me “Fireproof” alone has resulted in “people throwing away pornography, people renewing their marriage vows, people rededicating their businesses and their families. That’s what we’re after, to change our culture for the glory of the Lord.”

So far “War Room” has grossed an astounding $66 million (Box Office Mojo, Oct. 26) – and this during a year in which “Huge Flops Hit the Box Office” (Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26). This does not surprise Ted Baehr, publisher of Movieguide, who told me, “… we expected [the success of “War Room”] since we do the most detailed economic analysis of the movie box office and find year after year that movies with Christian faith and values do better at the box office.”

To what would the Kendricks attribute their success of all their films, including “War Room”? Their time in their own “war room.”


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