Pro-marriage flick "Fireproof" debuted at No. 4 over the weekend with $6.5 million and had the year's second highest grossing opening weekend return of any film released on 1,000 screens or less, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The Samuel Goldwyn release beat out opening competitors such as "Miracle at St. Anna," "Choke," and "The Lucky Ones," as well as second-week flicks "Igor," "Ghost Town," and "The Duchess," reported box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
It trailed the conspiracy thriller "Eagle Eye," which topped the weekend box office with $29.2 million, followed by "Nights in Rodanthe" with $13.6 million and "Lakeview Terrace" with $7 million. The top two films debuted in 3,510 and 2,704 theaters, respectively, while "Lakeview Terrace" opened at No.1 one weekend earlier with $15.6 million in 2,464 theaters.
"Faith-based audiences have much clout at the Box Office," explained Media By Numbers, noting that the only movie that did better than "Fireproof" this year in less than 1,000 theaters was Disney's "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert," which opened in February with $31.1 million from just 683 venues.
"'Action Squads' bought up lots of tickets," the box-office tracker reported, referring to the groups of volunteers nationwide that purchased tickets in advance to ensure that the movie's showing in their area.
With the help of volunteers, church members, and marriage supporters around the nation, "Fireproof" opened in 839 theaters over the Sept. 26-28 weekend.
The movie, produced by church-based ministry Sherwood Pictures, tells the inspiring story of a fireman and his struggle to save his faltering marriage from ending with his newfound faith and with the help of the "Love Dare," a 40-day spiritual guide that utilizes Scripture to reveal what true love is.
"Fireproof" has been touted by its supporters as a moving and emotional film that captures the real-life issues of marriage.
"It was life changing," commented Israel Sandoval, 25, from Reno.
"[I]t had everything but the most important thing was the focus on Jesus Christ," he wrote in the "Fireproof" blog after driving with his pregnant wife from Reno to Sacramento, Calif., to see the movie.
"Great great job to the whole crew, volunteers, church members who prayed for this movie; it has made its impact."
Jeff and Steph Clunn, who work for the local Lake Family Magazine in central Florida, testified that after watching "Fireproof" on Sunday, all they could say was "wow."
"We kept thinking … HOW many lives and marriages could be potentially saved if this movie gets the national acclaim it deserves?" they wrote in the "Fireproof" blog.
"Producing faith based movies has been near impossible to do until now," they continued. "[W]ith companies like the ones associated with this movie and many other ministries dedicated to changing the old Hollywood standard, big strides are being made."
While Associate Pastor Alex Kendrick of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., had expressed a desire to produce Christian movies when he was hired at Sherwood Baptist in 1999, it was a 2002 Barna Group survey that prompted his church to launch a movie ministry. The survey revealed that movies are one of the leading influencers in American society while churches have lost much of their influence.
Since then Kendrick and his brother Stephen have released three films through their ministry, Sherwood Pictures. Their second film, "Facing the Giants," was a surprise box office hit in 2006, lasting 17 weeks in theaters nationwide.
The low-budget movie, which centers on the life of a football coach who has never had a winning season in six years, was shown in 441 theaters across the nation and has been recognized as one of the most inspirational movies of 2006, according to Sports Illustrated. Furthermore, churches picked up on the movie to use for instruction and discipleship within their ministries.
The Kendrick brothers' latest film has drawn the support of several national groups including Focus on the Family, Outreach, FamilyLife, The Marriage CoMission, America's Family Coaches, AMFM, Marriage Alive Communications, and MarriageToday. Influential figures such as marriage expert Gary Smalley and Bubba Cathy of Chick-fil-A have also worked to spread word of the movie.
Cathy praised the film for its "powerful message and the potential to change lives and marriages."
"[T]his is one great movie," exclaimed the Chick-fil-A senior vice president in an endorsement.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Media By Numbers LLC:
1. "Eagle Eye," $29.2 million.
2. "Nights in Rodanthe," $13.6 million.
3. "Lakeview Terrace," $7 million.
4. "Fireproof," $6.5 million.
5. "Burn After Reading," $6.2 million.
6. "Igor," $5.5 million.
7. "Righteous Kill," $3.803 million.
8. "My Best Friend's Girl," $3.8 million.
9. "Miracle at St. Anna," $3.5 million.
10. "Tyler Perry's the Family That Preys," $3.2 million.
Final figures will be released Monday.