Lionsgate’s “I Still Believe” is the first major release in the Christian-Inspiration genre in 2020. The movie is opening in theaters on March 13th, against “My Spy,” Vin Diesel’s “Bloodshot,” and the long-delayed R-rated thriller “The Hunt” at the national box office. The specialty box office is also crowded that weekend, with “Big Time Adolescence,” “The Informer,” “The Roads Not Taken,” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” opening in select theaters. It’s an overstuffed weekend, and “I Still Believe” will have an uphill battle throughout March when “A Quiet Place 2” and “Mulan” open in theaters nationwide. “I Still Believe” timed its release to coincide with Easter weekend, when even lesser-devout Christians find their way to mass. Still, Christian movies are unpredictable at the box office, and while some have succeeded, others have been left wanting.
In an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, studios have started to market their Christian tales as ‘inspirational’ movies. In some cases, this works out just fine, and people leave the theater with a warm and fuzzy feeling. In other situations, the films are too heavy-handed with their central message, making a movie feel more like a sermon than an inspirational story. Several films tried to strike a balance in 2019, a few then were standouts, and others were flops.
Roxann Dawson’s “Breakthrough” featured Chrissy Metz, Marcel Ruiz, Topher Grace, and Sarah Constible, and the movie was one of the hits of 2019. The film had an $11M domestic opening and went on to make over $50M worldwide from a $14M budget. In the movie, a boy is left in a coma after falling through the ice, where he was stuck underwater for fifteen minutes. After he is taken to the ER, he suddenly wakes up from his coma after his mother begins to pray. Alex Kendrick’s “Overcomer” was more of a traditional inspirational movie. Kendrick directed and co-wrote the story, and he starred in the film with Elizabeth Becka and Shari Rigby. “Overcomer” followed a volunteer coach who helps a troubled teen, and the movie made $8M on its opening weekend before grossing $38M worldwide from a $5M budget.
While “Overcomer” and “Breakthrough” toed-the-line between faith-based and inspirational, 2019 had a big-swing in the other direction. “Unplanned” was an anti-abortion film produced by an evangelical Christian group and distributed by the Cristian studio Pure Flix. The film is based on the memoir of the same name by Abby Johnson, and the adaptation tells the story of a clinic director for Planned Parenthood as she becomes an anti-abortion activist. The film was a hit for “Pure Flix,” overcoming obstacles like getting an R-rating for its abortion scenes, and the commercials they made were deemed inappropriate for networks. The studio claimed that the R-rating and censorship were all anti-religious mechanisms to drown out the film. In the end, “Unplanned” made $6.3M on its opening weekend and $21M worldwide from a $6M budget. Following the film’s release, the American division of Planned Parenthood claimed that the film’s arguments weren’t true, but the film did get rave reviews from church-based critics. Other reviews used words like ‘propaganda,’ ‘dangerous,’ and ‘ridiculous’ when describing the movie.
“I Still Believe” is more towards the middle, and its an adaptation of the relationship between real-life Christian music star Jeremy Camp and Melissa Henning. This film might have a broader appeal, featuring current “Riverdale” actor K.J. Apa and YA star Britt Robertson as the couple, and the story itself centers on the popular Christian singer. Camp has eleven albums under his belt, and four of them are RIAA-certified as Gold. “I Still Believe” will need to overcome its own obstacles on March 13th, but these types of movies have succeeded in the past. Like horror films, studios can’t resist the commercial appeal of a low-budget inspirational movie. The risks are low, the key demographic is always present, and you can hope to recoup any loses on streaming services or television airtime. “I Still Believe” will be the first film in the genre to give 2020 a try, and after that, we might get a new wave of warm and fuzzy stories.
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