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Are film audiences losing their religion?

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

But this past 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, 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 (Martin Sheen) 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 brought in only $113,000. Since its release Sept. 23, the picture — which had a budget of around $30 million — has collected only $291,632.

Neither film looks to follow in the footsteps of “Soul Surfer,” about a teenager who relies on her faith after her arm is bitten off by a shark. Moviegoers loved 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.

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“Soul Surfer” hasn’t been the only religious film audiences have responded to in this year. In recent weeks, “Dolphin Tale” — a 3-D family film that doesn’t center on explicitly Christian topics but has been 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.

— Amy Kaufman


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