HOLLYWOOD (Christian Examiner) --The faith-based film "War Room" stunned Hollywood observers and made a bit of history, too, over the weekend, opening at No. 1 on its first night before finishing No. 2 for the weekend behind the biopic "Straight Outta Compton."
Rated PG, the prayer-focused "War Room" grossed an estimated $11 million -- more than double what it was predicted to make – and became the most successful opening weekend film yet for the Kendrick brothers, whose previous movies included "Courageous," Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants." "Straight Outta Compton" made an estimated $13.2 million.
"War Room" also easily topped two other new releases – "No Escape" (fourth place, $8.2 million) and "We Are Your Friends" (13th, $1.8 million). "Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation," in its fifth week, ended third at $8.3 million.
"War Room" had a standout weekend despite playing in far fewer theaters than its counterparts. It was in 1,135 theaters compared to the 3,142 for "Straight Outta Compton." If "War Room" had played in several hundred more theaters, it might have won.
The success of "War Room" bumped the spotlight off of "Straight Outta Compton," which itself had been a surprise hit the two previous weekends. Variety even wrote a Sunday story with the headline, "How 'War Room' Became A Biblical Box Office Smash."
Although critics mostly trashed "War Room" – only 18 percent at RottenTomatoes.com liked it – moviegoers loved it and gave it a rare A+ in CinemaScore's exit polling. 2011's "Courageous" also received an A+ CinemaScore, making Alex Kendrick the first director ever to receive that rating in consecutive movies, according to Deadline.com.
To put the CinemaScore grade in perspective, not one of 28 recent releases listed on the CinemaScore website received an A+ rating. "Straight Outta Compton" got an A.
Paul Dergarabedian, a box office analyst for Rentrak, said many experts didn't "see this one coming."
"It shows that when you create a film for the faith-based audience, they will support that movie," he told USA Today. "This is an audience pretty much left out of the conversation each week."
"Courageous" and "Fireproof" each finished fourth in their first weekend, grossing $9.1 million and $6.8 million, respectively. The per-theater average for "War Room" -- $9,692 -- was impressive, too, topping all movies, including "Straight Outta Compton" ($4,214).
Church groups helped carry "War Room" by purchasing large blocks of tickets. A diverse audience, too, boosted it. Forty-two percent of moviegoers were white and 36 percent African-American, according to Variety. The film tells the story of a black couple with a struggling marriage that is saved when a prayer warrior elderly woman teaches the wife how truly to pray.
Producer Stephen Kendrick told the Christian Examiner that he and his brother are able to reach large audiences through movies they would never reach through preaching. He mentioned "Fireproof" as an example.
"You've got two hours of unfolding a parable and communicating biblical truth," Kendrick said. "We've heard hundreds of stories of people saying either their marriage or their friend's or family member's marriage was saved – that God used 'Fireproof' to show them that their marriage was worth fighting for and that they needed to seek the Lord and let Christ be the center of their relationship."
Kendrick said in a statement over the weekend: "God totally gets the credit for what's happening. Thousands of people have been praying for this movie. With all of our inadequacy, God keeps taking what is said to be impossible and makes it undeniable. We are so grateful."
"War Room" is expected to spread to new theaters in the coming weeks.