‘Fireproof’ Earns Twice As Much As ‘Religulous’

Published 6 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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156 Comments - Comments are closed.

  1. I think one problem is that Religulous did not open anywhere…..

    When the movie released the advertising went away and for a week after it was in theaters not one theater in my state would air it.

    On monday of this week my local theater started playing it, and I went and saw it.

    I dug around online and found that their were alot of people who wanted to see it, but did not want to drive an hour and a half to do it.

    I thought Religulous was really funny, It was more slapstick and random funny rather than an attempt to smear religion with humor. The funny parts were not the religious parts, it was the odd quirks everywhere in the movie that made it enjoyable.

  2. Using the internet to gauge public opinion is a bad idea. If the internet were real life, Ron Paul would be winning a landslide right now.

  3. @jason

    Sigh. My point is that I thought it might have done much better considering the current (apparent) social climate in the US.


  4. I rarely get involved in these sorts of discussions, but it seems like the answer is very obvious:

    Fireproof – # of Theaters: 898
    Religulous – # of Theaters: 452

    This ratio has stayed pretty consistent over a three week period. This is about the number of theaters showing the movie, not some social endorsement.

  5. Religulous is also a documentary. Many theaters don’t play them, and audiences by and large steer clear from the big screen and wait for the small screen.

    Wait for the ancillary markets to come into play in a year from now. Maher doc will have outearned Fireproof in gross — but most likely not net profits.

  6. I find it amazing how many people who openly say they haven’t seen Religulous are ready to call it “senseless.” If you actually sit down and watch the movie, you may find that even though you don’t agree with Maher or many of his arguments at least they are thought provoking if you are open minded enough to think. I thought the movie was funny. Not great, but it had some moments.

    PS Ken J, you are a closed minded putz…sorry. Religulous is first and foremost a comedy, because it stars…wait for it…a comedian. It is also a documentary insofar as it documents Maher exploration of a topic. Documentaries can NEVER be objective unless it is pure surveillance footage. Everything on film is presenting a side of an argument, consciously or unconsciously, it’s basic film theory. Sorry that you don’t care for dissenting opinions but it’s one of our rights in this country, it’s in the first amendment…look it up. The reason it’s an easy argument to knock down is because of the beliefs in world religions, they are unbelievable unless you possess enough faith to believe it over the scientific process.

  7. why all the talk about atheism? Bill Maher is an agnostic. If you actually saw the movie you would know this. He perscribes to the church of “I don’t Know”

  8. @vic

    You said you wanted to see the divorce rates of christians vs others, I looked up a link. Seems “lol” is the right response to turning to god due to marital problems.

    “Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.”


  9. Who is Kirk Cameron by the way?

    I thought Religulous was a docmnetary in the mocking style of “Bowling for Columbine” not a comedy. Does it need to be funny to see it?

  10. FYI, I’m staggering the comments in order to not crash my server. As long as they are not offensive they WILL be posted.


  11. Religulous will not even be played in the 6 theaters near where I live because its such a backwards area. Id love to see the movie I heard some good things about it.

  12. It’s not a matter of which is better. I’ve seen a lot of crappy movies do awesome at the box office. Fireproof may seem like it as flown in under the radar, but it comes down to who it is being marketed to. Think church groups. A good film like Religulous might not do so hot in the box office because it is competing with other really good films, and documentary style movies aren’t as big attractors in the first place. On the other hand a crap movie like fireproof has next to no competition in the religious market. Church groups and youth groups across the country go to religious films by the bus load, regardless of how horrible they are.

  13. @Vic
    Most statistics I’ve seen place the divorce rate of Christians far above that of Atheists. While I was unable to locate a .gov or .edu site to cite, a Google search on the subject provides page after page that suggest the religious are more inclined to split. I think nothing of it. I assume more Christians than Atheists marry young. Everyone is ignorant and inexperienced and in puppy-love when they’re twenty-years old. I prefer to interpret it as evidence that Atheists are not amoral monsters, rather than see it as a slam against Theists. We all make human mistakes, after all.

    Re: the movies
    I am atheist. I, and the majority of the Atheists I know or have encountered, do not like Maher. He misrepresents the non-religious. He makes use of classic talking points—nothing terribly imaginative or new—and then pussy-foots around making a solid stand. He takes the apologists failed stance of labeling Atheism a religion and suggesting Agnostism as the path of the intellectual. If all these would-be metaphysical philosophers want to take such a wishy-washy stance, they better be prepared to claim Agnostism with regard to Santa Claus, fairies, magic, Cthulhu, et cetera. Atheism is about evidence. Give me scientific evidence for God and I will become a Theist. Give me scientific evidence for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and I will become a Pastafarian. Until that time, there is no reason to believe in either. And neither will I become an apologist for invisible, pink unicorns (yes, invisible and pink) just because I cannot prove their non-existance.

    tl;dr version:
    Maher is a poor representative for non-theists and—due to their reliance on evidence rather than faith—Atheists are less in need of smarmy movie, than Christians are in need of a corny movie, to cement their beliefs.

  14. had Religulous been anywhere close to me I would’ve seen it opening day. That’s why Fireproof got better box-office #s (also, not to sound like an ass, but Christians eat any Christ-Marketing up).

    And for the record, I hate Bill Maher’s attitude toward religion. Smarmy doesn’t even begin to describe it, but he’s doing something other’s are afraid to. And in Bill’s defense (and all the jerk-off militant atheists on the web), it’s American nature to rebuke an extreme idea with an equally extreme counter-idea. It’s a bass-ackword logic employed by all of us.

  15. I really like Maher, but I’m not going to pay to watch more stuff about religion… Even if it is against it and I’d likely like it.

    All this invisible cloud man talk gets to be a bit much after a while.

  16. I find that the purpose of your article is to convince the reader that the Christian community is a more wholesome, supportive, “human” group than the Atheist community. It is rather clever that you disguised it as a film review.

    You draw the reader in with a title that suggests you’ll compare and contrast the two films but what you’re really doing is comparing something you know well to something you don’t know at. All the while you’re pointing out the better face of the Christian side and implying that atheists are a very small minority group who HATE Christianity and spend their time trolling the internet.

    You fill the first paragraph with depictions of selfless Christians who volunteered their efforts, made donations, and refused being paid all for the sake of spreading “the message.” You use all of half of your next breath to mention that you haven’t seen Religulous and have no desire to do so.

    It is obvious that you are a Christian with an agenda. You describe Religulous as a movie that would “put you over the top” of an already spiking blood pressure. This is a movie that is meant to poke fun at religion. It is a comedy. You imply that Atheists are the same as anti-Christian people, which leads me to believe you do not have an understanding of what it means to be atheist.

    You misunderstand the nature of the atheist population online. For the first time, atheists have found a venue by which they can express their opinions freely without fear of retribution. I often straddle the line between agnosticism and atheism and I can tell you that I don’t care to spend energy on convincing people that there is no god. I will, however, raise my voice when someone is openly imposing their religion on others by using their religious beliefs to influence laws, policies, and public opinion.

    Your overall theme seems to be, “look past the obvious [facts] at the emotional impact,” which I find to be the theme of Christianity itself. This is probably the one message that “spikes” the blood pressure of atheists most.

  17. Double checked, I don’t even have the option of seeing this movie as it is nowhere near. One of those things I’ll have to wait for on DVD.

  18. Like others have noted, and as you did yourself, Religulous played on many fewer screens. I had tried to see it, myself, but could not find a local showing during the free time I have.

    Also, Maher defines himself as an “athiest” not in the sense that he claims there is no god, but in the sense that he will not believe in something for which there is no way anyone can claim to really know (i.e., the same reason you no one can claim, reasonably, that Zeus or Poseidon exist).

  19. quoth ken:
    I hate when they are called “documentaries.”

    Feelings don’t change the reality. Documentaries are meant to inform, or provide information on a specific topic of interest.

    The history channel “documentaries” on specific topics or places are just historical films or docu-drama (reenactments). That’s a whole other category in the film industry.

    For example:
    is a docu-drama (reenactment historical film)
    is an expedition documentary

    Both are in IMAX theaters (a commercial theater).

    Expelled, Jesus Camp, Super Size Me, Fahrenheit 9/11 AND Religulous all have a point they explore to inform the masses… albeit a controversial one that people may not agree with. I might believe that Everest is a much more interesting mountain than Kilimanjaro, or that the Alamo “went down” completely different… but you don’t see me writing up a blog post on the box office take for each film or b!tching about inaccurate comparisons to other films with a message that I personally agree/disagree with… like Vic.

  20. I like your thoughts about the bubble of the internet. Did you think however though that the internet might not be skewed, and perhaps it is actually the ‘real’ world that is skewed. I think online people are more ‘themselves’. Maybe in real life they go to church they donate, they participate in the churches pancake breakfast, but the entire time they are thinking to themselves what a load of crap it is. The anonymity of the internet allows people to share their real views. Not the views that they pretend to support in the real world out of fear of being persecuted and shunned by their family and friends. I know when i told my parents that i didn’t believe in god, they freaked out, and they aren’t even religious people. They don’t go to church or have any wholesome christian believes, but they believe in god and that was enough for them to flip out on me.

  21. @John

    The anonymity of the internet is the worst thing about it – there is no consequence for anything you say to anyone, no matter how vile. That’s why I’ve made it a point to use my real name on this site. I won’t hide behind the curtain of anonymity.

    And if you believe the “skew” is backwards, you’ve been spending too much time online. Go out and get some fresh air.


  22. @Vince

    This was not a review. The point of my post was that I was honestly amazed that Religulous didn’t do better at the box office considering everything I read online and everything I hear in the media.

    Of course I’m biased – this is a blog and I make it very clear that I (nor any of my writers) make any attempt at objectivity. The whole point of this site (and most blogs) is to be subjective.

    I personally know many people who don’t believe in God and I can tell you that as a group they are neither nasty nor condescending – two qualities I find in VAST abundance in the online community whenever religion (or politics, for that matter) comes up as a topic.

    Best regards,


  23. @David

    Interesting stats – I’d be curious to see more extensive detail… like the number and percentage of non-Christians who live together and aren’t married, and then split up. You can’t divorce if you were never married.


  24. I am so grateful to see your take on “Fireproof.” As a God focused filmmaker and President of a film co. it is not news to me that “Fireproof” performed better at the box office. Most people in the industry know this ie Matthew Perry’s films, while lacking in top notch scripts and “A” list actors , actually outperform, per dollar spent, most films produced today. That is why Lionsgate, signed a distribution deal with him. Children’s films do very well at the box office. The main reason for both of these genres doing well is that people generally go to movies to be entertained not scared, outraged, disheartened, etc.
    Sex, violence and profanity are actually not profitable in the long run. When all is said and done we want to know how to be happier, and live more contented lives – and self indulgent, self centered, self absorbed, violent lives portrayed in so many movies don’t show us how to do that.


  25. Aside from what has already been said about Religulous being a documentary and that documentaries *never* make as much money as other films, I would have to say that this also supports another point that is brought up in the Religulous documentary itself:

    Those who identify themselves as atheists or agnostics are vastly and hopelessly outnumbered in this country by Christians. Obviously an anti-religious movie would make less money if only 15-20% of the population identified with the message.

    I am not surprised that they represent a larger vocal majority on the internet, though. As Vince pointed out, the internet provides a layer of anonymity through which we can express our beliefs without feeling oppressed by a massive majority for doing so (Which is what it feels like in real life).

    “Using religious beliefs to influence laws, policies, and public opinion” is what causes the vast majority of offense to non-religious people. It’s not that you believe in God, it’s that your belief in God is screwing with other people through it’s perversion of government and justice.

    As Religulous points out, it is nigh impossible to be elected to any public office in this country if you do not say you believe in God, even when a belief in God has absolutely nothing to do with holding office.

  26. Just to clarify the discussion about Atheism/Agnosticism earlier. Atheism – Theism defines degree of belief in a supernatural deiety. An atheis “does not believe” whereas a theist “do believe”. Agnosticism – Gnosticism defines the degree of certainty. A Gnostic person is absolutely certain, while an agnostic person has a low degree of certainty. Myself I’m an agnostic atheist. I don’t know if there is a god (there is no evidence neither way), but I do not believe in any god (since there is no evidence to suggest his/hers/its existence).

  27. Vic: and as discovered by most here, there are very little showings of the movie to go see.

    Also, David gave you a URL that contained all the References. Follow them through if you don’t believe it. People shouldn’t have to spoon feed you information in a comment section.

  28. @Chris

    Where do you think the entire basis for law originates? How about the concept of right and wrong? The Bible, bro.

    And on the other side we are just as offended by having things that we find offensive crammed down OUR throats.


  29. I sure know what you mean about all of the loud atheists on the internet. It’s so bad that if I get positive reponse on one of my comments, I wonder if maybe I wasn’t clear in what I wrote.