Two years ago, Facing the Giants, a low-budget sports movie made by volunteers at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, grossed $10 million on a budget of only $100,000.
This year, Sherwood scored a bigger hit when Fireproof, a marriage-in-crisis movie made for $500,000, surpassed even the $25 million take of Big Idea's 2002 film, Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. (It has currently earned $28,327,659, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.)
But while Fireproof drew large audiences, Billy: The Early Years of Billy Graham bombed. Made for a reported $5 million, the film earned just $347,000 in its first three weeks and dropped out of theaters. Fireproof averaged $8,148 per theater in its opening weekend; Billy averaged a mere $681.
Billy producer Larry Mortorff said Fireproof's success, ironically, might have hurt his film. "Maybe the Christian world can only take one Christian film at a time, and Fireproof may have taken that spot." Mortorff said his team was strategizing a "second wave" of theatrical releases, and was confident they would break even with DVD sales and TV deals.
Fireproof's distributors, including Christian label Provident and secular outfit Samuel Goldwyn, credit the film's success to its subject matter's universal appeal, and to the fact that it was produced by people in the pews, who represent its intended audience. The film was also promoted on the Dr. Phil show, which devoted an episode to the theme of "fireproofing your marriage."
Fireproof's success goes beyond the film itself: The Love Dare, a book tie-in cowritten by director Alex Kendrick and his producer, brother Stephen (both pastors at Sherwood), sold 600,000 copies within weeks, reaching No. 1 on The New York Times list of best-selling paperback advice ...1