As the second quarter of 2016 begins, one of the most interesting trends at the box office is the dramatic rise of faith-based films. In the span of only a few short months, several smaller-budgeted religious dramas have reaped serious financial rewards at the box office. Since January, at least four major national releases have featured prominent religious stories or themes.
This weekend alone, the religious sequel God’s Not Dead 2 arrived in theaters nationwide while during its third week at the box office, Miracles from Heaven actually built on its own success story, expanding into 108 more theaters (according to BoxOfficeMojo.com).
The rise of faith-based films is often partly attributed to the massive, unprecedented success of The Passion of the Christ in 2004. That film, which arrived in February of 2004, truly changed Hollywood’s perspective on religious films while earning over 600 million dollars at the global box office. Since then, there have been a variety of faith-based movies including the big-budgeted blockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia in 2005 and more modest success stories like God’s Not Dead in 2014.
What’s interesting in 2016 though is how eclectic this genre of films has become.
God’s Not Dead 2 is the least surprising film of the bunch. After the success of the low-budgeted original, it seemed inevitable that a sequel would eventually arrive. Although in many ways it follows the original’s formula (with a heavy focus on religious prosecution of people in classrooms), it tells a different story and predominantly features a new cast.
Thus far, the sequel hasn’t done as well as the first film but with even meager success on such a low budget, there will likely be a third film in the series coming out.
Movies like The Young Messiah and Risen have taken a different tact. Both of them told fictional stories that were built out of Biblical ones. The Young Messiah imagined what Jesus would look and act like as a seven-year-old boy. Risen, on the other hand, told the story of a fictional soldier who was tasked with finding Jesus’ missing body after it disappeared from the Messiah’s tomb three days after the Crucifixion. While The Young Messiah — which received five stars from Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey —reportedly hasn’t recouped its budget yet, Risen surely did. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, that film cost approximately twenty million to make and has already earned more than thirty-six million.
The biggest success story of these films though is the under-rated Miracles from Heaven, which was based on the nonfiction book by Christy Beam. Based on the true story about Beam’s daughter being healed from a mysterious disease after a terrible fall from a tree, the movie averaged $2300 in each of its theaters this past weekend while Allegiant— the third big-budget dystopian drama in the Divergent series, which opened a few days after Miracles did— only earned $1900 in each of its theaters. Miracles reportedly cost only 13 million dollars to make and has already made 46 million at the box office.
Admittedly since Passion arrived, there have been numerous flops in the genre. From the atrociously-produced 2014 Nicholas Cage-led drama Left Behind starring Nicholas Cage to the big-budget bomb Exodus: Gods and Kings, which relied on special effects over solid storytelling, there have been stumbles along the way. However, 2016 has shown that a wide variety of faith-based films can do well at the box office if they embrace their religious identities.
The positive trend could continue later on this year when the big-budget Ben Hur hits theaters nationwide but in the meantime, the 2016 box office has been kind to movies that speak to religious audiences who are looking for stories — from fictional ones that build off the Bible to contemporary ones that tell true stories — that show the power of faith and religion in our world.
For a list of five must-see faith-based films that have arrived after The Passion of the Christ, click here.