Kim Hollis: War Room, the faith-based film from director Alex Kendrick, earned $11.4 million this weekend. Why did this grass roots religious film succeed where others have failed in 2015?
Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
September 1, 2015
Edwin Davies: We've seen Christian films do well in the past through directly appealing to religious audiences through churches and pastors. That technique isn't foolproof, but it generally means that these typically low-budget efforts turn a profit by appealing to a specific niche. The ones that break out usually have some X-factor: God's Not Dead took a deliberately provocative stand, Heaven is for Real was based on a popular book, and Son of God was taken from an already successful miniseries.
The X-factor for War Room was director Alex Kendrick, who is the closest faith-based cinema has to a superstar director. As the director of Fireproof and Courageous, he has a lot of goodwill stored up from directing these unambiguously religious morality plays. This could make War Room front-loaded, and I wouldn't be surprised if it closed in the same low-$30 million range as his last two films, but it reaffirms that Kendrick is (in an admittedly limited way) a brand name.
Ryan Kyle: I agree with Edwin and would find it comparable to call director/writer Alex Kendrick the faith-based films' Tyler Perry (albeit with a much slower churn time) due to him having a consistent gross pattern with the same core audience group. With most of the successful faith-based films of recent years coming from the TriStar banner at Sony, I guess their marketing department knows something the others don't. Made for the cost of a typical Blumhouse film, these penny productions are even more impressive than the horror flicks, as they don't require an aggressive TV/print campaign. This makes these openings seem as if they come out of nowhere and profit almost instantaneously. I'm surprised we don't see more Christian films on a consistent basis given that I think we have passed the point in believing that these openings are one-off successes.
Matthew Huntley: Good observation, Edwin. You've shed some light on why War Room probably did as well as it did. I didn't know Alex Kendrick had such a profitable track record and that it may be his name that sold it (I guess this is why the poster advertises the film as "From the Creators of FIREPROOF and COURAGEOUS"). In addition to the filmmakers, though, I would attribute the film's success to a seemingly lack of better options for most moviegoers. Many would agree Hollywood is sort of in a "blah" state at the moment, despite there being plenty of great product still available, but to the majority of viewers, I'm willing to bet War Room looked like it was the most popular (and therefore accessible) choices of the new releases this weekend and so even non-Christians decided to give it a chance. But I would agree the director had more to do with it and we'll definitely see more from him in the future. I've yet to see any of his films, but if it's at all like God's Not Dead (the one Christian film I've seen in recent years), I'm not expecting much as far as quality, subtlety, efficacy, etc.
Jason Barney: While this is the definition of a weekend that is going to be a very small footnote in film history, you can’t ignore the nice success that War Room has become. The last couple of weekends of August, up to Labor Day, are relegated for the films studios don’t have a lot of confidence in, something went wrong with the project, or there really was nowhere else on the release schedule, so we get the dumping ground effect. I don’t think that applies to War Room, and Tristar/Sony has pulled off a clean victory.
Regardless of how close the race ends up being with Straight Outta Compton (still another late summer success), the concept, numbers, and scale of War Room should be appreciated. While it might be within the mainstream to write off many of the faith based films, its notable studios are aware of the potential money involved and every so often test the earning power related to that viewing demographic.
Small project, small expectations, little risk...and they have a money maker on their hands. The budget for this one came in at around $3 million and the marketing costs can’t be too high. With this opening weekend they have basically paid for the film, paid for the effort to market it, and now just a few days into release they can sit back and watch the profit role in. Critics may not be giving it the best reviews, but the people who are seeing it are likely to tell their friends about it, so I think word-of-mouth will be good to average for a film like this.
Another interesting point is the small number of screens it opened on. Yes, it’s late August and the competition may be soft, but War Room achieved this with fewer than 1,200 screens. All of the other top 10 films had significantly more screens.
Kim Hollis: I never really know which of these faith-based films are going to take off. Every time I think we're on a streak and that it's going to be a genre that consistently makes money, you see one crash and burn. And then we go for a string of several poor performers before seeing a breakout. Quality sure doesn't seem to be the issue, because most of these films receive pretty terrible reviews.
With that said, War Room received an A+ Cinemascore, so the converted to whom it's preaching are definitely finding a lot to love. I don't necessarily think it will hold up well after this debut weekend, but it doesn't really have to. Everyone involved is probably pretty thrilled right about now.
David Mumpower: In addition to the exceptional discussion so far, I would add that War Room finishes a prior conversation. We wondered last year if there could be a form of box office saturation for the faith-based cinema. That's exactly what transpired as the sheer volume of releases in a short period of time taxed the target demographic. Going to see every release started to feel like work. Then, there was a six month gap prior to the release of War Room where no serious releases debuted. Now that there's been some breathing room, that core audience is right back in the theater loyally supporting another film. As an aside, I also think the Tyler Perry analogy is brilliant.