(Screenshot: Heaven Is For Real/YouTube)
The faith-based film "Heaven Is for Real" recorded a highly impressive box-office debut over Easter weekend, taking in $21.5 million domestically and besting Johnny Depp's sci-fi blockbuster "Transcendence," which only earned $11.5 million.
"The film definitely played not only to a faith-based audience but to a mainstream audience as well," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at Sony Pictures Entertainment, following the impressive debut, according to Deadline.com. "The title itself provokes dialogue no matter what you believe. It's based on a book and the true story of this family, so it makes it all that more compelling."
The Randall Wallace movie, based on the bestselling 2010 book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, has earned an estimated $28,500,000 from 2,417 theaters nationwide in the first five days of its release, more than doubling its modest production budget of $12 million.
"It's really a terrific result," Bruer said. "And Easter was certainly a date that was in the wheelhouse of the film."
Meanwhile, Depp's "Transcendence," which has a production budget of close to $100 million, only took in $11.5 million from 3,455 locations in its first three days.
The narrative for "Heaven Is for Real" focuses on Christian pastor Todd Burpo and the near-death experience of his then 4-year-old son, Colton, who shares of meeting Jesus in heaven as well as a number of his deceased relatives after undergoing emergency surgery in 2003.
Last week, Christian Hollywood exec DeVon Franklin told The Christian Post that success for "Heaven Is for Real" could result in more faith-friendly movies on the big screen.
"The success of this movie opening weekend directly correlates to the decision to green-light and make more of them. It's an immediate thing," Franklin, senior vice president of Production for Columbia TriStar Pictures, told CP. "If there's a sense that there's a growing market and a growing hunger for more films like this, then the desire to continue to provide more films will increase, and decisions will be made to be able to make more films like this."
The film was produced by megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes of The Potter's House in Texas and has been backed by a number of Christians, including faith film-review website Faith Driven Consumer, which gave it an overall rating of four stars out of five.
But Steve Wohlberg, Christian TV producer and author of over 30 books, isn't keen on the theology present in the film. "There's one major problem," he said. "Neither the Old or New Testaments teach anywhere that our dead relatives are floating around in heaven waiting to talk to us. Instead, they 'sleep' (1 Cor. 15:51) quietly in their graves awaiting 'the resurrection at the last day' (John 11:25)."
The Hollywood Reporter suggested that the box office results over Easter weekend provide further evidence that 2014 is the year for Bible movies. Darren Aronofsky's "Noah," it noted, is still in the top 10 at the box office, taking in $5 million (now totaling $93.2 million domestically) at No. 9, while "God's Not Dead" took in 4.8 million (now totaling $48.2 million) at No. 10.
"Son of God," the Roma Downey and Mark Burnett-produced film centering on the life of Jesus, also performed well at the box office when it was released at the end of February, taking in $59 million domestically.