'Evan Almighty' Counting on Word-of-Mouth After Not-so-Mighty Opening

This season's faith-related big studio movie, Evan Almighty, opened up to a disappointing debut weekend, only pulling in $32.1 million in U.S. and Canada ticket sales.

The movie, which is a sequel to Bruce Almighty starring Jim Carey, did come in first in the box office, but its return in sales is only a small chunk of the over $250 million estimated to create the flick.

Should the latest biblically-based movie continue to sag in profits, some say it may possibly discourage big studios from targeting faith audiences.

Studio executives are not necessarily worried as of yet, however, since the film may pick up some steam as word of mouth gets out about the film.

"The key to success of a movie like Evan is to attract the faith-based audience while not alienating the secular audience," said analyst Paul Dergarabedian of research firm Media by Numbers, according to the Los Angeles Times. "Now they have to count on the movie having legs by having a strong word of mouth with the faith-based audience."

Evan Almighty depicts a modernized version of the Old Testament story of Noah in which he must build an ark to save his family from a worldwide flood. In the revamped Universal Studio concoction, newly elected senator Evan Baxtor (Steve Carrell), former newscaster in the first film, is caught by surprise when "God" (Morgan Freeman) tells him to build a boat of biblical proportions.

The film has been receiving mixed reviews by Christians. Most of them are happy with the family-friendly tone of the film. It is free of profanity, sex, and other inappropriate content.

But many large ministry heads have been unhappy with its biblical inaccuracy, however. They do not like how the production overly humanizes God as well as misinterprets the meaning of the flood described in Genesis.

"As for whether my readers and their sons and daughters should see this film, that decision depends on their individual interpretations and beliefs," explained James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, after seeing the film. "From my perspective, it is a shame that the movie is flawed in ways that could have so easily been avoided. Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that the producers and writers did not include the gratuitous sex and violence that punctuates so many other summer offerings. Evan Almighty could have been a perennial favorite."

While faithful movie-goers may not be so disheartened by the weak opening weekend for the film, some are wondering if a poor showing will cause movie industry execs to put the brakes on faith-based programming.

Studio heads know that there is a large religious audience. That is clear from the success of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ which raked in $612 million worldwide.

The latest faith-focused films have not fared as well, however. The most recent example is The Nativity Story which came out this past Christmas. It was only able to draw in $46 million worldwide while the picture itself cost $65 million to make and advertise.

But Hollywood studio pros may not have to worry about the scenario yet. Other family-friendly movies such as Elf and Night at the Museum have had almost identical opening weekends to Evan, but they ended up turning into mega-hits for the studios.

According to Nikki Rocco, Universal Studio's president of domestic distribution, a survey revealed that 95 percent of ticket buyers rated the film as "excellent" or "very good."

"It's a really good launch to a film that's going to be talked about with friends and family," she concluded in the Los Angeles Times.

Coming in second and third at the box office this weekend were horror film 1408 and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, respectively.