Hollywood will celebrate Easter the same way it's celebrated several weekends this year: With a dose of faith.
On the heels of several faith-based films still in multiplexes, Sony opened Heaven Is For Real last week in more than 2,400 theaters hoping to tap into the recent box office flood of religious movies.
Based on a 2010 best-selling Christian book, Heaven tells the story of a small-town pastor whose son says he visited heaven during a near-death experience.
The film, released Wednesday and starring Greg Kinnear, could collar $20 million in its first five days, analysts say.
The estimate would have seemed inflated even last year, as religious-themed films traditionally have survived on small studios and direct-to-video sales and rentals. But mainstream studios have discovered profits in prophets, leading to a raft of biblically-inspired movies.
"This underserved audience has been waiting for this for years," says Paul Dergarabedian of
And they're dropping millions. Here's a look at the box office performance of recent films:
- Noah (3/28) — Paramount's $125 million epic, starring Russell Crowe as Noah, has taken its lumps from religious circles, but is an unmitigated hit: The Darren Aronofsky tale has collected $86.7 million domestically and $162 million internationally. It has been a huge hit in Russia, Mexico and South Korea. Though scholars and critics have taken the film to task for its Hollywood touches, Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount, says ticket sales affirm "this is a water-cooler film, and people feel passionately about it. It was never meant to be a literal movie, but one that inspired discussion. And that's exactly what's happened."
- Son of God(2/28) — The movie that started the big-screen surge, Fox's $22 million story about Jesus of Nazareth, has collected a solid $59.1 million domestically. International figures are not available.
Hollywood will gear up again for Christmas with Exodus, Ridley Scott's story of Moses, starring Christian Bale.
The trick now for studios, Dergarabedian says, is turning the devout into faithful moviegoers.
"Hollywood must now clearly have renewed faith in the drawing power of biblical stories and films that have elements of religion," he says.
Still, finding a source of revenue is different than tapping it, and Dergarabedian says studios find themselves on a tight wire.
He says studios and filmmakers must "figure out how to strike the correct balance between the mainstream entertainment value and secular appeal, and yet remain deferential to the biblical text while attracting faith-based audiences back to the multiplex."