The Power of Prayer at the domestic box office: ‘War Room’ (sort of) beats ‘Straight Outta Compton’
Aug. 29: A miracle was needed for any of this weekend’s new entries to beat the sleeper hit of 2015, F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, at the North American box office. As long as studio estimates are on target, that miracle has (sort of) happened thanks to War Room. Praise the Power of Prayer and the Power of Expert Targeted Marketing.
“If you haven’t started already, pray for this movie,” urges an Evangelical Christian website featuring a War Room promotional giveaway, “that the Holy Spirit would be in abundance at each showing of the film, that hearts would be impressed to pray more than ever and that revival will happen as a result!”
Directed by Alex Kendrick and co-written by Kendrick and his brother, Stephen Kendrick, the Power of Prayer family drama War Room tells the story of a married couple (Priscilla C. Shirer, T.C. Stallings) who, with the assistance of a devoutly Christian elderly lady (Karen Abercrombie) and numerous appeals to The Lord, manage to save their union.
Lambasted by U.S. critics – War Room has a downright rotten 20 percent approval rating and 3.9/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics – the film has clearly struck a chord with Evangelical churchgoing groups, which often buy movie tickets in bulk. (Whether or not everyone actually shows up at the screenings is another matter.)
Profitable Christian movies
Televangelists discovered long ago that God Is Money. When they saw the Friday, Aug. 28, ’15, box office results for the “faith-based” – i.e., Evangelical Christian – War Room, the suits at Sony Pictures are now all revivalist believers as well.
War Room was supposed to trail the Christopher McQuarrie-Tom Cruise actioner Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation at the domestic box office this weekend, collecting no more than $5 million from 1,135 locations. Instead, the Christian drama has become somewhat of a threat to the weekend box office supremacy of Straight Outta Compton.
On Friday, War Room debuted with an estimated $3.87 million vs. $3.83 million for Straight Outta Compton – which is now expected to have a steeper drop-off rate than box office gurus had predicted. Important: bear in mind that the War Room Friday total includes $600,000 from Thursday evening showings. In other words, the actual Friday box office champ was indeed Straight Outta Compton.
‘War Room’ to top weekend box office?
Could War Room beat Straight Outta Compton over the weekend? Although at this stage nothing is impossible, it’s certainly unlikely.
Straight Outta Compton figures are expected to go up on Saturday; that’s normal for “older” releases. Barring a(nother) miraculous surge, War Room should be down today for a couple of reasons:
- No Friday night showings to inflate the film’s box office take.
- Generally speaking, a film’s second day of release isn’t nearly as strong as the first day. For instance, Straight Outta Compton opened with $24.12 million (including Thursday night grosses) on Friday, Aug. 14, but took in a less astonishing $19.29 million on Saturday.
For now, War Room is expected to gross around $9-10 million, or about double the original estimates, for a per-theater average in the vicinity of $9,000. Straight Outta Compton is expected to take in $12-$13 million, or about 20 percent less than previously believed.
‘War Room’ vs. ‘Courageous’ and ‘Fireproof’
Needless to say, War Room has no chance of becoming a major sleeper hit like last year’s Son of God ($59.7 million) or Heaven Is for Real ($91.44 million). But it’ll likely match – or possibly surpass – the box office take of Kendrick’s previous effort, Courageous. For comparison’s sake:
- Alex Kendrick’s Courageous (2011), which opened in late Sept., debuted with $9.11 million (approx. $9.5 million in 2015), ultimately cuming at $34.52 million (approx. $36 million today). The Courageous cast includes director Alex Kendrick, War Room‘s T.C. Stallings, Ben Davies, Kevin Downes, Robert Amaya, Ken Bevel, Rusty Martin, Rusty Martin Sr., and two members of the notorious Duggar family, Joy-Anna Duggar and Jessa Duggar.
- Another late Sept. opener, Kendrick’s Fireproof (2008) collected $6.83 million on its first weekend out (approx. $7.5 million in 2015). Fireproof reached $33.45 million domestically (approx. $38 million today). In the cast: former TV heartthrob Kirk Cameron, Erin Bethea, and Ken Bevel.
War Room was made for a reported $3 million. It’s unclear how much was spent on marketing and distribution; not infrequently, in case there’s a ready-made target audience for their cheaply produced or acquired films, major studios incur expenses on prints and advertising that overshadow the movies’ production budget.
‘Infantile depiction of prayer’
As mentioned above, War Room may have been a hit among Evangelical Christians, but critics have remained skeptical. The Salt Lake City Weekly‘s Scott Renshaw, for one, wrote:
Structurally, the movie is a mess, building to so many different endings it really should’ve been called ‘The Return of the King of Kings.’ And even more troubling is the mix of victim-blaming in an emotionally-abusive relationship and an infantile depiction of prayer that turns God into a genie who gives your husband food poisoning before he can cheat on you. All the Satan-rebuking speeches in the world can’t make a story uplifting when it subtly suggests that you can tell a real Christian by the way everything always works out exactly the way they pray for it.
Once again, remember not to get this particular War Room mixed up with Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s acclaimed 1993 political documentary The War Room.
Zac Efron movie bombs
Early estimates for the Zac Efron electronic dance music flick We Are Your Friends were way off: dumped by Warner Bros. in the dog days of late August, the Max Joseph-directed romantic drama took in a dismal $725,000 from 2,233 locations – at no. 12 on the U.S. and Canada box office chart.
Wrapping this up, the Owen Wilson-Pierce Brosnan thriller No Escape earned an estimated $2.4 million on Friday at no. 3, followed by Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation with $2.18 million, and Sinister 2 with $1.4 million.
War Room poster and Karen Abercrombie image: Affirm / Sony Pictures.
Weekend box office: ‘Straight Outta Compton’ to beat weak competitors, but still far from being top blockbuster directed by black filmmaker
If you thought last weekend was bad at the U.S. and Canada box office, you should see what’s in store for this weekend, Aug. 28–30. For starters, only one movie, F. Gary Gray’s sleeper hit Straight Outta Compton, is expected to earn more than $10 million. The rest – and that includes Zac Efron, Owen Wilson, Pierce Brosnan, and the Power of (Christian) Prayer – will perform quite powerlessly indeed.
In case Straight Outta Compton reaches the box office gurus’ estimated $15 million, it will get close to the $140 million mark. Bear in mind there’s no guarantee that will happen; despite basically no competition, the drop-off rate of Gray’s hip hopping film was steeper than expected last weekend. (See updated weekend box office estimates.)
Now, some have reported that the N.W.A. biopic is about to overtake Keenen Ivory Wayans’ Scary Movie as the highest-grossing domestic release directed by a black filmmaker. Is that accurate?
Well, yes, if you live on a planet where something called inflation doesn’t exist. Scary Movie took in $157.01 million back in 2000. That would represent approximately $236.5 million in 2015 dollars. In other words, Straight Outta Compton has a long, long way to go in order to sell as many tickets as the internationally popular lowbrow comedy featuring Marlon Wayans and Anna Faris.
Zac Efron ‘We Are Your Friends’ movie flops
Starring Zac Efron as a DJ trying to break into the electronic dance music scene, the Warner Bros.’ release We Are Your Friends should be the no. 2 movie this weekend, scoring around $9-10 million from 2,333 locations. Warners acquired the Max Joseph-directed film for a reported $2 million.
The best-received – or rather, least negatively received – new entry, We Are Your Friends has a decidedly unfriendly 43 percent approval rating and 5.4/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics.
Besides Zac Efron, We Are Your Friends features Wes Bentley (American Beauty) and Emily Ratajkowski (Entourage), in addition to Johnny Weston, Alex Shaffer, Alicia Coppola, and Jon Bernthal.
Americans abroad: ‘No Escape’
Directed by John Erick Dowdle, and starring Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, and Pierce Brosnan, No Escape should collect less than $10 million from 3,350 sites by Sunday evening, even though it opened on Tuesday night.
On its first day (and a half), late Tue./Wed., The Weinstein Company-distributed thriller earned $1.2 million. If that sounds bad, it could have been worse. At this time of year in 2014, Roger Donaldson’s The November Man, toplining Brosnan, Luke Bracey, and Olga Kurylenko, debuted with $861,000.
In No Escape, Owen Wilson plays an American engineer who attempts to flee with his family from a Southeast Asian country embroiled in political turmoil. Don’t expect No Escape to be another The Quiet American. RT‘s top critics have it pegged at 35 percent approval and 4.8/10 average.
‘War Room’: The Power of Prayer in Christian drama
Behind the Christopher McQuarrie-Tom Cruise actioner Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Alex Kendrick’s “faith-based” – a euphemism for “Christian” – movie War Room is expected to gross $5 million or whereabouts at 1,135 theaters.
Barring a miraculous surge – or church groups going on a buying spree – War Room should trail Kendrick’s previous two efforts, Fireproof (2008) and Courageous (2011), both of which opened in late Sept. with (unadjusted for inflation) $6.83 million and $9.11 million, respectively.
Cowritten by Alex Kendrick and his brother, Stephen Kendrick, War Room revolves around a Christian couple who save their crumbling marriage with the assistance of an older woman and the power of prayer. The film took in an estimated $600,000 from Thursday night screenings. Critics were skeptical: War Room has a downright rotten 20 percent approval rating and 3.9/10 average among RT‘s top critics.
In the War Room cast: Priscilla C. Shirer, T.C. Stallings, and Karen Abercrombie.
And remember not to get War Room mixed up with Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s acclaimed 1993 political documentary The War Room.
Shadows of Forgotten Predecessors
As for last weekend’s newcomers, they’re all about to disappear from view. In case you’ve already forgotten their titles, here they are:
- Sinister 2. Directed by Ciarán Foy. With James Ransone and Shannyn Sossamon.
- American Ultra. Directed by Nima Nourizadeh. With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Topher Grace.
- Hitman: Agent 47. Directed by Aleksander Bach. With Rupert Friend and Hannah Ware.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ gazillion dollar debut
And finally, aren’t we all eagerly awaiting the opening of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, which is expected to bring in a couple of trillion dollars on its opening weekend? Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit. The worldwide estimate currently stands at $615 million.
But how did the “box office experts” come up with this number? Well, if Colin Trevorrow’s totally Steven Spielberg-ish Jurassic World debuted with $524.4 million, why shouldn’t the latest Star Wars sequel (or prequel) – even without the Chinese market or the George Lucas brand – open with an extra $90.6 million? It’s elementary, my dear reader. Just do the math.
Written by Abrams (Star Trek) and Lawrence Kasdan, The Force Awakens’ extensive cast include the following:
Oscar Isaac. Simon Pegg. Harrison Ford. Mark Hamill. Carrie Fisher. Daisy Ridley. Gwendoline Christie. Domhnall Gleeson. Adam Driver. Andy Serkis. Lupita Nyong’o. Warwick Davis. John Boyega. Peter Mayhew. Greg Grunberg. Kenny Baker. Christina Chong. Anthony Daniels. Veteran Ingmar Bergman collaborator Max von Sydow (The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring).
Lawrence Kasdan’s screenwriting credits, by the way, include adult (or at least adult-ish) fare such as Body Heat and The Big Chill, in addition to the Flash Gordon-ish universe of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
‘American Ultra,’ ‘Hitman: Agent 47’ & ‘Sinister 2’: Weekend box office bombs
Aug. 22: American Ultra, Hitman: Agent 47, and Sinister 2 are the new entries at the North American box office this weekend, Aug. 21-23. All three of them are expected to underperform – with American Ultra having a particularly disastrous bow, especially for a movie starring Best Actor Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and former Twilight star Kristen Stewart.
Whether you blame it on a glut of movies targeting the same audience, a lack of major box office draws, or poor reviews, only one of the debutantes is expected to score more than $10 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters by Sunday evening.
According to early estimates found at Deadline.com, Ciarán Foy’s Sinister 2 will lead the pack of newcomers with somewhere around $11 million from 2,766 locations – after a Friday take of only $4.7 million, and down from an expected weekend gross of $17-$18 million. Shades of Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four and Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer: both (much higher profile) releases also opened quite a bit below expectations.
Now, direct comparisons to the original Sinister would be unfair. Directed by Scott Derrickson, the horror thriller starring Ethan Hawke opened with $18 million in early October 2012 – right in time for Halloween.
Sinister 2 reportedly cost less than $10 million to make. Yet bear in mind that a lot of run-of-the-mill horror films are cheaply made but (relative to their cost) expensively marketed. The movie has a downright rotten 17 percent approval rating and 3.5/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics.
Now, could that be the reason for its underwhelming box office performance?
Are you kidding? True, Sinister had a (however mediocre) 50 percent approval rating and 6.1/10 average among RT’s top critics, but, to name another Ethan Hawke horror flick, The Purge suffered from a 21 percent approval rating and 4.5/10 average and still debuted with $34.05 million in June 2013.
Sinister 2 features James Ransone, Shannyn Sossamon, Tate Ellington, Robert Daniel Sloan, Dartanian Sloan, Lea Coco, John Beasley, and Lucas Jade Zumann.
Hitman: Agent 47
Unlike Sinister 2, Aleksander Bach’s videogame-inspired Hitman: Agent 47 and Nima Nourizadeh’s American Ultra would have benefitted from better reviews – and from different weekend debuts.
Released by 20th Century Fox, the former has a dismal 9 percent approval rating and 4.2/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes‘ top critics. Relatively speaking, the latter has a stellar – but still downright mediocre – 42 percent approval rating and a so-so 6/10 average among RT’s top critics.
Compounding matters, at first glance both movies have similar themes: they’re action thrillers. The difference is that the R-rated Hitman: Agent 47 is a more straightforward drama while Lionsgate’s R-rated American Ultra has a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the proceedings.
Starring Rupert Friend (Homeland, Pride & Prejudice) in the title role originally intended for Paul Walker, Hitman: Agent 47 opened on Friday with only $3.08 million from 3,261 locations. Already modest expectations have been downsized to a weekend debut below the $10 million mark. In fact, the action thriller could easily end up grossing less than $8 million.
Not including prints and advertising, Hitman: Agent 47 cost a reported $24 million. Not good news for Fox, which is still reeling from the (much costlier) Fantastic Four debacle.
Besides Rupert Friend, Hitman: Agent 47 features Ciarán Hinds, Jerry Hoffmann, Sebastian Hülk, Hannah Ware, Rolf Kanies, Thomas Kretschmann, Jürgen Prochnow, and Star Trek‘s Zachary Quinto.
Starring Timothy Olyphant, Xavier Gens’ Hitman opened with $13.18 million (approx. $15.5 million today) in Nov. 2007, going on to gross $39.68 million (approx. $47 million today) in North America, in addition to $60.27 million internationally.
‘American Ultra’ bombs
Not including the animated Rio and Rio 2, Jesse Eisenberg has had a trio of solid openings at the U.S. and Canada box office: Now You See Me ($29.35 million in June 2013), The Social Network ($22.44 million in Oct. 2010), and Zombieland ($24.73 million in Oct. 2009).
Apart from Bella Swan and the Twilight movies co-starring Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart had a remarkable debut with Rupert Sanders’ Snow White and the Huntsman, co-starring Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, and which collected a better than expected $56.21 million in June 2012.
At the domestic box office, Stewart has been less lucky with her smaller (and generally more prestigious) entries, such as:
- Greg Mottola’s Adventureland ($16.04 million cume), also featuring Jesse Eisenberg.
- Walter Salles’ On the Road ($744,296 cume), with Garrett Hedlund and Sam Riley.
- Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria ($1.84 million cume), starring Juliette Binoche and Chloë Grace Moretz, and which earned Stewart a historic César Award and may eventually earn her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination as well. (See also: “Kristen Stewart and Catherine Deneuve Make César History.”)
Anyhow, the estimated $5-6 million that American Ultra should score from 2,778 venues by Sunday evening – after having taken in a dismal (estimated) $2.1 million on Friday – comes as a major letdown, especially considering Stewart’s faithful following in various social media and that this is her first “commercial” effort since Bill Condon’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 came out in November 2012.
Lionsgate acquired the rights to American Ultra for a reported $7 million. The film itself – a sort of The Bourne Identity spoof with touches of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest – is supposed to have cost around $12 million. International prospects look iffy, though Kristen Stewart will likely be a draw in at least some territories.
Once again, American Ultra would have greatly benefitted from fewer critical barbs. The two leads seem to have escaped unscathed, but that has proven hardly enough of an audience enticement.
And finally, American Ultra would have received a major boon had either Eisenberg or Stewart been paired with a major box office draw. Tom Cruise should get her for Mission: Impossible 6.
Besides Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, American Ultra features Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale, and Nash Edgerton.
‘Straight Outta Compton’ & Tom Cruise
Despite all the buzz and “through the roof” audience ratings, F. Gary Gray’s bio-musical Straight Outta Compton is expected to be down more than 50 percent this weekend according to Deadline.com. That’s actually not quite as bad as it sounds, as the film’s box office gross last weekend included $4.96 million from Thursday screenings. There was no such luxury this time around.
Barring a horrific Sinister 2 surge, the no. 2 movie this weekend should be Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The Christopher McQuarrie-Tom Cruise actioner should rake in approximately $12 million.
To date, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, featuring Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Diane Kruger, Michael Fassbender, and Christoph Waltz remains the no. 1 late August movie at the domestic box office: $38.05 million (approx. $41.5 million adjusted).
Sinister 2 poster: Gramercy Pictures | Focus Features.
Rupert Friend Hitman: Agent 47 image: 20th Century Fox.
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart American Ultra image: Lionsgate Films.
Zac Efron We Are Your Friends image: Warner Bros.
Straight Outta Compton poster: Universal Pictures.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser poster: Walt Disney Studios.