UPDATED: The nation’s moviegoers look to be turning out in bigger numbers for a Christian-themed independent film than for the first mainstream teen movie with a gay main character. Roadside Attractions-Lionsgate’s “I Can Only Imagine,” based on the story of the biggest-selling Christian song of all time, is looking at an estimated $15 million for the weekend from 1,629 locations, far outdoing earlier estimates of $2 million-$8 million.
Meanwhile, Fox’s “Love, Simon” is garnering attention for featuring a love story centering on a teenage boy coming out, and is looking at a $12 million-plus weekend on 800 more screens than the faith-based opener. With “Black Panther” still drawing healthy audiences in its fifth weekend, “Love, Simon” is facing the same challenge as “A Wrinkle in Time” did last week to lure moviegoers away from the Disney-Marvel blockbuster.
Budgeted at just $7 million, “I Can Only Imagine” tells the story behind the hit song of the same name and of Bart Millard, the leader of Christian rock group MercyMe. J. Michael Finley stars as Millard and Dennis Quaid plays his father in the film from directors Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin, who helmed 2015’s “Woodlawn” and 2014 “Mom’s Night Out.”
“I Can Only Imagine” is benefiting from support from churches and groups as well as from from MercyMe, who have been helping promote the film on social media. Some moviegoers on social media were reporting sell-out crowds in their towns.
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The pre-Easter period typically sees the opening of several faith-based films: Next week is Sony’s “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” while threequel “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness,” from Pureflix, will open on Easter weekend. The first two “God’s Not Dead” movies grossed a total $81.5 million.
Lionsgate’s March 3 opener “The Shack” was the top faith-themed film of 2017, with $57 million at the domestic box office.