As mainstream media’s final August headlines focused on Donald Trump, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the ups & downs of the stock market, a quiet revolution was under way at America’s boxoffices: “WAR ROOM”—the latest film by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick, who previously produced Fireproof, Courageous and other Christian-themed films—was generating nearly $12-million at multiplexes nationwide. (“WAR ROOM” was neck-and-neck all weekend with rap movie “Straight Outta Compton” which had been #1 the previous two weekends.)
Hollywood was astonished. Showbiz newspaper VARIETY suddenly declared that the Kendrick Brothers “have transformed themselves into Steven Spielbergs of Christian cinema.” Movie ticket website FANDANGO reported that heading into the weekend, there were a higher number of tickets sold per transaction for “WAR ROOM” than any mainstream Hollywood offering. But why is “WAR ROOM” such a boxoffice success? I count three main reasons:
First, the Kendrick Brothers—and SONY ‘s AFFIRM Films division led by the dynamic Rich Peluso—start with powerful storytelling and first-class production values that are second to none in the industry. They know how to make—and market—Christian films. The Facebook page for “WAR ROOM” attracted ed over 500,000 fans, and outreach to pastors and other faith leaders was significant.
Secondly, the ‘buzz” generated in advance of this weekend’s opening was solid. For example, as I interviewed cast and guests at the film’s red carpet premiere in Dallas, mainstream personalities such as nationally-syndicated talk radio host Glenn Beck turned out alongside pastors and local dignitaries. AFFIRM heavily marketed “WAR ROOM” on Christian radio stations owned by Salem Media Group and other companies, targeting those audiences for this latest faith-based film. This offset the usual lousy reviews from critics who habitually pan Christian and faith-based movies.
(Radio & TV personality Glenn Beck is interviewed by SRN’s Tom Tradup at Dallas “WAR ROOM” premiere)
And finally, I credit both the Kendrick Brothers and AFFIRM Films with producing a movie focused on and starring African Americans. The “WAR ROOM” cast—led by Priscilla Shirer, TC Stallings and the astonishing performance by Karen Abercrombie—smashed the color barrier in Christian films. Nearly 90% of African-Americans self-identify as belonging to a religious group; 15% say they hail from evangelical churches. So at a time when American media zero-in primarily on racial stereotypes such as the so-called Black Lives Matter crowd last week’s ‘disgruntled’ African-American killer at a Virginia TV station, “WAR ROOM” has arrived with a positive, Godly portrayal of African Americans that our nation sorely needed.
There have, of course, been other triumphs in Christian-themed films—both independents as well as major studio productions such as 2014’s Heaven is For Real—and more are in the pipeline, including the film version of Don Piper’s bestselling book 90 Minutes in Heaven. But it’s safe to say that rarely has the Hollywood “establishment” been caught as off-guard as in when they woke up to this weekend’s heavenly boxoffice returns for “WAR ROOM.”
Tom Tradup is Salem Radio Network VP News & Talk programming. Contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.