Faith-based marketing helps uplifting film

Sherwood Pictures, the moviemaking ministry of Sherwood Church in Albany, Ga., is a better judge of its audience than the tracking services are. Its most recent film, “Courageous” (see review, page 29), released by Sony’s TriStar Pictures, minted $9.1 million from just 1,161 Stateside locations in its opening weekend (Sept. 30-Oct. 2).

“Courageous,” which didn’t even figure in pre-weekend tracking services, started out strong before it even debuted, with advanced ticket sales totaling around $2 million. The film continued to build momentum throughout the weekend, surprising most B.O. observers by topping a trio of higher-profile wide releases that included “Dream House” and “50/50.”

It’s the latest example in a string of faith-based pics that have overperformed at the B.O.

Earlier this year, Sony released sports biopic “Soul Surfer,” which cumed $43.9 million — more than four times its opening — and while family film “Dolphin Tale” isn’t exactly faith-based, Warners has marketed the pic to that segment. The film surged to No. 1 in its second frame and has grossed $39.2 million through Oct. 5.

Both of those titles, along with “Courageous,” received rare (though not necessarily among faith-based pics) A+ CinemaScore ratings.

“Courageous” tells the story of four police officers, who after a tragedy, struggle in their faith and with their roles as father and husband.

Sony targeted the film to church groups as well as fans of Sherwood films. The company’s “Fireproof,” which opened to $6.8 million, became 2008′s highest-grossing independent release, cuming $33.5 million domestically. “Courageous” cost only $2 million, while “Fireproof” was made for half that.

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