by Brent Lang, Senior Film & Media Reporter | Aug 30, 2015

Image: Sony

 

Outside of evangelical circles, the names Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick are likely to be met with blank stares.

But thanks to low-budget hits like “Fireproof” and “Courageous,” the brothers have transformed themselves into Steven Spielbergs of Christian cinema. Their names above the title are enough to open movies that are firmly pitched to the faithful.

This drawing power was firmly on display when “War Room,” a celebration of the purpose-driven life, stunned box office watchers by nearly dethroning “Straight Outta Compton” as the weekend’s highest-grossing domestic release with its $11 million debut. That’s particularly impressive given that the religious drama was playing on a third of the number of screens as the N.W.A biopic.

“It’s a great example of the power of a brand,” said Chris Stone, founder of the consumer advocacy group Faith Driven Consumer. “The Kendrick brothers’ films have an authenticity with this audience. They have consistently delivered a good product that resonates with the community.”

Don’t count reviewers among the fans. “War Room” has a woeful 18% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics like the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Rechtshaffen dismissing the film as “mighty long-winded and wincingly overwrought.”

Alex Kendrick, a former pastor who handles directing duties on the brothers’ films, said the filmmakers are accustomed to the rough notices.

“Critics in Hollywood are rough with us,” said Kendrick. “They don’t understand why we make our movies or our worldview. But our target audience gets them and that’s who we want to draw closer to a walk with God.”

“War Room,” the story of a disintegrating marriage rescued by intense prayer, was produced for a slender $3 million and distributed by Sony’s Affirm division. It is on pace to be among the Kendrick brothers’ biggest hits, rivaling the $34.5 million brought in by “Courageous” and the $33.5 million generated from “Fireproof.” It also continues Sony’s success with the genre — the studio scored with “Soul Surfer” and “Heaven is for Real,” as well as fielded the Kendricks’ films.

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