I Can Only Imagine, the movie that shocked Hollywood in its opening weekend, is going to be in 600 more theaters this weekend.
The film that tells the story of Christian songwriter Bart Millard, brought in over $17 million in its first weekend. It cost just $7 million to make.
It was the third most popular film in America last weekend coming in behind Black Panther and Tomb Raider and ahead of Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time but was also on half as many screens.
And while it finished third in total box office sales for the weekend, I Can Only Imagine made more money per theater than any movie last weekend.
Andy Erwin, the movie’s co-director told KALB-TV in Alexandria, Louisiana on Thursday, “We found out yesterday it rose up to number two at the box office past Tomb Raider today, and we’re going into 600 more theaters this weekend.”
Roadside Attractions co-president Howard Cohen told Variety that the distributor began to get a sense in recent weeks that I Can Only Imagine would over-perform, thanks to $1.6 million in pre-sales and 130 million trailer views.
Producer Cindy Bond had high hopes for the movie, but she never imagined the reception it would receive.
She told the Sacramento Bee, “Oh my gosh, I have not landed; I’m just orbiting the earth. My feet haven’t touched the ground. Hollywood is not ignoring this faith-based film,” she said. “This movie jumped up and said, ‘Hello!’ It elevated the whole genre.”
Money talks in Hollywood, like everywhere else, and the success of I Can Only Imagine might give film industry executives, interested in pursuing religious moviegoers, an improved standing with movie studios and actors. Faith based movies have generally lacked the star power, financial backing and production quality to compete with secular fare.
But it will take more than one movie to convince studio heads, who are perceived to be out of touch with Christians.
“It’s easy to put these movies on the side,” Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst at ComScore told the LA Times. “But it’s hard to ignore movies that are this successful on a regular basis. I feel like this genre is really coming into its own.”
But acceptance is still slow even in the face of impressive financial numbers. “Hollywood is still learning,” said Chris Stone, founder of the Christian advocacy group Faith Driven Consumer, which says 17% of Americans make purchasing decisions primarily based on their religious beliefs. “The community is hungry for content, and there’s very little content that is strictly made for them.”
Meanwhile, while Millard is thrilled about the box office reception for the film, he told KALB there’s a bigger story behind the bottom line, “No one is out of the reach of Christ. If people walk away with that kind of hope, then we’ve done our job.”