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.
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.
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.