“Courageous,” a film about four police officers attempting to be good fathers and maintain their Christian faith, may be the most popular new movie release of the weekend. Yet odds are that you’ve never even heard of it.
The new movie — which opens on 1,161 screens nationwide and was co-written and directed by Alex Kendrick, the filmmaker behind past faith-based films such as “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants” — is leading advance sales on Fandango and has been throughout the week, according to data provided by the online ticket retailer.
As of this morning, purchases for “Courageous” accounted for 26% of the transactions on the site; the only other new release that comes close is “50/50,” which was in fourth place with 7%. The film has also been trending throughout much of the day on Google.
But “Courageous” was not screened in advance for most critics (only four reviews can currently be found on Rotten Tomatoes) and the marketing push behind it does not even approach the media blitzes behind competitors like “50/50” and Anna Faris’s “What’s Your Number?”
Why? Because “Courageous,” while distributed by Tristar, which falls under the Sony umbrella, was made with backing from faith-based production companies and marketed primarily to members of the Christian community. And that economical, niche approach has proven, again and again, that it works.
Consider the following statistics.
“Fireproof,” the aforementioned 2008 Kendrick release that starred Kirk Cameron, cost about $500,000 to make, according to Box Office Mojo. It earned $33.4 million. “Facing the Giants,” released in 2006, brought in $10.1 million on a production budget of $100,000. And last year’s “To Save a Life,” grossed $3.7 million while running up a price tag of just $500,000.
These films make a profit because they are made modestly, and speak (as well as market) to an audience that craves what they provide: movies about spiritual subjects that, for the most part, can be seen by audience members of numerous ages. (All of the aforementioned releases were rated PG or PG-13.)
“Courageous” doesn’t need endorsements from film critics at major media outlets, nor does it need to spend millions of dollars on press tours and ad campaigns. It knows who its audience is and targets those people directly. Which — much as it may pain the movie-critic side of me to say this — is pretty smart.
“Courageous” probably won’t be the No. 1 movie at the weekend box office; it isn’t playing on enough screens to overtake the higher-profile releases that currently dominate the multiplex. But don’t be surprised to see it in the top 10. Clearly the interest is there, even if many people outside of the film’s target audience didn’t even know it existed until now.