‘Fireproof’ Earns Twice As Much As ‘Religulous’

Published 7 years ago by , Updated October 29th, 2008 at 6:12 pm,

fireproof religulous Fireproof Earns Twice As Much As Religulous

I went and saw Fireproof this weekend, the low budget Christian film starring Kirk Cameron. It cost all of $500,000 to produce thanks to tons of volunteer efforts and community donations. As far as I know Cameron refused a paycheck for appearing in the film.

It was written, produced and directed by Alex Kendrick, whose previous two films Facing the Giants and Flywheel (neither which I’ve seen) are both also Christian-centric films.

I haven’t seen Bill Maher’s Religulous, and honestly, have no desire to do so – at least for a few months. All this electioneering has my blood pressure spiking already and I don’t need to see Maher’s smarmy approach to belittling religion to put me over the top. Maybe once the election dust has settled and it’s no longer saturating the web I’ll feel up to it.

Expectedly, Religulous has been getting much better reviews than Fireproof. I can’t say I’m surprised due to a number of reasons – I’m sure the production values on Maher’s film are far higher than on Kendrick’s, and the Fireproof cast was populated by members of the local church… no professional actors outside of Kirk Cameron. And of course the subject matter and message of the film doomed it to critical panning overall, regardless – although I was surprised to see at least moderate recommendations from a couple of critics at the NY Times and Variety which looked past the obvious at the emotional impact of the film.

religulous interview Fireproof Earns Twice As Much As Religulous
Bill Maher conducts an interview in Religulous

What I found to be completely unexpected is the fact that Fireproof has earned twice as much at the box office as Religulous.

Both opening weekend box office numbers and total to date are as close to two-to-one as you can get. On their respective opening weekends (one week apart), the barely advertised Fireproof earned $6.8 million while the highly advertised Religulous earned only $3.4 million. As of the date of this post the numbers are $23.6MM vs $10.6MM.

And let’s not even get into the profit margin side of things. Fireproof had an ROI of $46 for every dollar spent while Religulous earned $4 for every dollar (probably less, if marketing is considered).

Granted, Fireproof opened on 60% more screens, but over ensuing weekends its numbers have dropped by a far lower margin due to word of mouth than Religulous.

A friend of mine who runs a movie news site asked (incredulously) how in the heck a movie like Fireproof could have a $6 million opening weekend. I would add to that how the heck did it manage to trounce Bill Maher’s anti-religion movie?

Sure, I’ve heard the “call to action” reasoning – churches exhorting their members to go out and see the film and support it. I can tell you that I heard no such announcement or mention at the church I attend. I didn’t even know about it until after it had already opened. Of course I’m not saying that didn’t happen, just that it didn’t happen at my church.

fireproof rescue Fireproof Earns Twice As Much As Religulous
Kirk Cameron rescues a child in Fireproof

What I do find interesting is that the movie has held up so well – this must be attributed to good word of mouth. Believe me when I tell you I was not looking forward to watching it, but my wife and I and another couple made a day of it, driving up to Park City. I was expecting a cheesy movie along the lines of the Left Behind movies – and while the acting was far from great (with a few surprising exceptions), I found the film to be much better put together than I expected.

And personally, I found it extremely moving and that surprised me big time.

Now if someone shows up to see this film who is a hard core athiest or an anti-religion/anti-Christian person, they’re going to hate it and its heavy slathering of “the message” starting at about the half way point. However for those who can set that aside, you’ll find a very emotionally intense film about the attempt of an estranged husband trying desperately to keep his marriage together.

I cannot speak to the content of Religulous – I’m sure it was quite enjoyable for fans of Bill Maher. But I’ll tell you what’s fascinating about all this to me… I spend a LOT of time online, and it gives one a skewed view of the population. I would say that people who don’t believe in God and are vocal about it probably outnumber believers by at least 5 to 1 online. There’s nothing scientific about that number, it’s just my impression from blogs and social networking sites that I frequent.

I say it’s skewed, because if that translated to “the real world” Religulous should have beat the crap out of Fireproof at the box office. By a very wide margin – especially considering TV commercials, trailers, etc.

But that didn’t happen.

I know that spending a lot of time online can cause us to think that this little “bubble” represents everyone out there, so maybe we should step back once and a while and remember that it doesn’t.

To some that will be disconcerting (and they’ll no doubt deny it), but to others it’s a comforting thought.

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  1. As an independant filmmaker I try to see as many movies as possible. As an agnostic my opinions on spiritually-inspired films, music, etc. run the gamut from enraged to accepting.

    I watch Bill Maher regularly for his political commentary and his comedy which I enjoy. I stay away from most religious entertainment (with the exception of some of the better Jars of Clay songs) because the majority of it isn’t that good. Period. I’m sorry, it’s not about the message – unless it’s crammed down my gullet -, rather, it’s about a lack of artistry.

    My father is also veteran of the DC fire department and him and I have a really difficult time watching movies about firefighters. Not because of the reactions they might invoke due to the lives being risked in this occupation but because of the ridiculous way that the job is presented. Fireproof was no exception in this regard.

    I watched both Fireproof and Religulous and couldn’t stand the former. The main reason for this was because I just didn’t find it to be good cinema. I felt that the acting was stale, the script was frustratingly overt with its message, and the direction was mediocre at best.

    Religulous, as somebody mentioned earlier, is an entirely different type of movie – it’s a documentary and you absolutely have to evaluate them on different terms. The sheer act of crafting a documentary is very, very different than making a narrative feature. They don’t exist within the same plane of film regardless of the message pushed. To say that you could argue them for the reasons you stated is mostly incorrect.

    While I don’t always enjoy the way that Maher goes after religion, I felt that his movie was much softer than I expected it to be. I expected no-holds-barred and I got somewhere between leaning and biased.

    Neither movie was an important turning point in the history of cinema and I certainly don’t think that either will change anyone’s mind on the topic of their own spirituality. Rather, these movies were made for their respective audiences. Maher’s film, in my opinion, comes out ahead because its message was blatant and out there from the beginning; it made no pretenses. Fireproof tried too hard, I feel, in the second and third acts to get its message across. I believe that it’s an inferior film because of this reason, and those that I mentioned before.

    Interesting site though.

  2. @Caleb (interesting choice for a screen name considering the movies we’re discussing)

    Great comment and I understand what you’re saying. Fireproof was certainly no cinematic tour de force, but I enjoyed it for its message. This was an unusual post for this site so I hope you stick around.

    @stygyan said,
    “I could say maybe it is because we atheists can be atheists without movies to reassure us in our particular view of the world.”

    Um, no one I know that saw this movie needed it to “reassure” them, no more than a fan of the “Saw” movies watches those to reassure them that there is cruelty in the world.


  3. @stygyan

    Get off your high horse, religious people don’t “need” movies to reassure them either. This movie is simply something that religious people can find inspirational and entertaining. And it appears that your logic is “epic fail” anyhow since Maher’s movie seems to be a movie for atheists to reassure themselves that they are not “wacko” like these crazy religious people…

    I know your point is not the movies themselves, but the box office sales, the box office sales, like so many atheists here have pointed out, is more likely to do with the fact that there are more religious people than atheists. So it does nothing to prove your point since on a statistical standpoint, about the same percentage of atheists went to see Maher’s movie as religious people seeing Fireproof. Except the difference here is that Fireproof isn’t some mean-spirited spiteful anti-atheist movie, but a “positive” movie if you happen to be religious. Again, they are “for” something and not “against” something. Like the saying goes, if you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for anything.

    Just in case you’re curious, being an agnostic means I’m “for” anything that I deem has been proven or have seen enough evidence of. Same can be said about atheists EXCEPT the difference and the thing that makes an atheist an atheist is that they are AGAINST religion. People always claim that being an atheist means to be for science. But that’s actually not correct. You can be an atheist without believing in science. The ONLY criterion that would set you apart specifically as an atheist is someone who believes there is no God. There are people who don’t believe in science, but for some reason, maybe because enough bad things have happened to them, that they believe there must not be a God. They are atheists. There are people who believe in science, and also believe there is no God. They are also atheists. And there are people who believe in science, but at the same time they believe in God. They are religious. Do you see the difference? The only relation between ALL atheists is that they are against the concept of a god or gods. Nothing else unifies them, not science, not evolution.

    That’s my point about atheism being more of an anti-belief than an actual belief. Atheism cannot exist without religion, but religion can exist without atheism. Without religion, everyone would be automatically agnostics since they are not picking any sides since there are no sides to pick from.

    But again, I am not saying I think it’s wrong for someone to be an atheist, but I do think it’s wrong for them to be telling other people that they shouldn’t be religious. As an agnostic, I have always stood by the belief that everyone is right in their own beliefs, they will go to whatever heaven or no heaven at all when they die because that’s what they believe up until those final moments. So that’s all that matters. I’ve always defended religious people against the spiteful attitude of atheists who only want to insult religious people, and have to fend off religious people trying to convert me to whatever religion it is they support.

    I hate being the middle man…

  4. Be as one with the body,,,
    Peace be with you brother,,, peace through Landru…

    Kirk to Enterprise,,, Kirk to Enterprise!!!

    Scotty !!!!

  5. In a prior post the film company of Tyler Perry was mistakenly identified as “Matthew” Perry. My bad… Karen

  6. And on that high note, I’ll be closing comments on this post. :-)


  7. Not having seen any of these two, I could say maybe it is because we atheists can be atheists without movies to reassure us in our particular view of the world.