God and the movies: How ‘War Room’ is winning the battle of the box office

Posted at 3:38 PM, Sep 08, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-08 15:38:26-04

(CNN) — Actor/writer/director Alex Kendrick and his brother, producer Stephen Kendrick, did exactly what you would expect devout Christians to do when it came to their latest film, “War Room.”

They prayed for it to succeed.

“We thought we had a shot at the top five but didn’t expect to be near the top,” Alex Kendrick told The Wrap. “The response has been incredible! We’ve been overwhelmed with people who were inspired and moved by the film.”

In some ways, his prayers were answered: The low-budget film edged out the much more widely released “Straight Outta Compton” for the top spot at the box office over the Labor Day weekend, though experts say the weekend was a bit of a slow one.

Some might call it a faith-based David versus the secular Goliaths in the entertainment industry.

At a time when some in the Christian community feel left out of the political landscape and ignored by Hollywood, faith-based films are answering a call.

“There is so much love for this film,” Rory Bruer, Sony’s distribution chief, told the New York Post. “It starts with the Kendricks. They’re visionaries in this genre.”

For the Kendrick brothers themselves, it starts with faith. Alex Kendrick told the site I Am Second that he grew up loving films, despite the fact that he and his siblings did not have a great deal of exposure to pop culture.

“As a boy, for years, we did not have a television. Our parents were pretty conservative,” he said. “We were able to see on occasion … a family-friendly movie at the theater. I remember being so enamored with these huge stories on screen.”

After filming a few home movies as a youngster, Alex Kendrick pursued faith-based filmmaking as an adult.

In 2006, he said, he struggled to find a distributor for his second film,”Facing the Giants.” A music company whose song he sought permission to use reached out to say that not only could the song be used, but its parent company, Sony, wanted to release the film.

“The one door we had not knocked on,” he said. “God opened a door we could not have opened.”

The film flourished despite a small budget and showing in only a few hundred theaters. The brothers’ company, Sherwood Pictures, went on to produce “Fireproof” in 2008 and “Courageous” in 2011, both of which found greater audiences: “Fireproof” made more than $33 million at the box office, and “Courageous” made more than $35 million.

But “War Room” has been the brothers’ most high-profile project to date.

Made on a $3 million budget, the movie earned $12.6 million over the four-day holiday. The Kendricks have relied on a grass-roots marketing plan that includes Bible studies tied to the film and outreach to church leaders.

“We intentionally showed the film to pastors and community leaders to get their support,” Alex Kendrick told the Washington Post. “Our bull’s-eye audience are people of faith and the church, and we are trying to call them to a more devoted and sincere walk and that they express faith with conviction and sincerity.”

Kendrick, who directed “War Room,” knows the importance of such an audience from his work as a former associate pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.

The strategy been working, drawing endorsements from such Christian heavy-hitters as Franklin Graham.

And the movie about a seemingly perfect couple who must use faith to deal with the battles in their lives has apparently struck a nerve. The “War Room” refers to praying strategically, and in the film, one of the characters has a room where she does just that.

During an interview with KBAK/KBFX in Bakersfield, California, reporter Aaron Perlman broke down in tears. He told the Kendrick brothers that the film changed his life.

“Immediately after this movie, I went home, ripped out everything in my closet and made my own war room,” Perlman said.