Two new films end strong run for faith-based pics at box office

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It had been a solid year at the box office for films with religious themes.

But this weekend, two pictures with spiritual motifs -- ‘The Way’ and ‘Machine Gun Preacher’ -- failed to resonate with moviegoers.

‘The Way,’ directed, written by and starring Emilio Estevez and his father Martin Sheen, opened in 33 theaters and grossed $132,411, according to an estimate from Producers Distribution Agency, which is releasing the film. That means the movie brought in an average of $4,012 per theater, a weak start for the picture about a father who sets off on a religious pilgrimage to honor his late son.

‘Machine Gun Preacher’ got off to a better start when it opened in limited release late last month, averaging $11,000 per theater. But the film about a missionary who travels to Sudan to help children of war has not been as successful since. This weekend, the movie played in 93 theaters but only brought in $113,000. Since its release Sept. 23, the picture -- which had a budget of around $30 million -- has only collected a disappointing $291,632.


Neither film looks to follow in the footsteps of ‘Soul Surfer,’ about a teenager who relies on her faith when her arm is bitten off by a shark. Moviegoers loved the the modestly budgeted film, assigning it a rare average grade of A+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. After opening in March, the movie went on to take in a respectable $43.9 million domestically.

‘Soul Surfer’ hasn’t been the only religious film audiences have responded to in 2011. In recent weeks, ‘Dolphin Tale’ -- a 3-D family film that doesn’t center around explicitly Christian topics but was marketed to a faith-based audience -- has done surprisingly well at the box office. And ‘Courageous,’ made by two brothers who are also ministers, is proving to be a sleeper hit. The film about four police officers grappling with religion after a tragedy had a budget of only $2 million, but has already made $15.9 million after two weeks in theaters.


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-- Amy Kaufman