Okay, full disclosure: I did not actually see “Fireproof,” a film “about a Christian fire captain who recommits to his marriage,” as described by reporter Dale Buss in the Wall Street Journal article, “What Christians Watch” and my main interest has to do with its star, Kirk Cameron. But apparently this movie with a paltry $500,000 budget and its 80s teen idol has surprised everyone at the box office since it “collected more than $33 million — and was the biggest-grossing indie movie of 2008.” (Note: he also likens the unlikely success of “Fireproof” to “Rocky” which I think is a bit overdone, but I digress.)
Apparently, the other reason for the surprise about the success of “Fireproof” with church-going audiences is that Christian films are not always a slam dunk among “belief-motivated film watchers”:
“While huge hits have ensued, such as the first of Walden and Disney’s “Chronicles of Narnia” series in 2005, duds have proliferated as well, including last year’s “Billy: The Early Years,” about a young Billy Graham…[And] evangelicals and Catholics will punish offerings that they deem cynical. “The Nativity,” for example, suffered because the life of Keisha Castle-Hughes, who played the Virgin Mary, seemed to mock the art: The 16-year-old star announced before the movie’s opening in 2006 that she was pregnant out of wedlock. The same year, “End of the Spear,” a stirring true story about American missionaries in South America in the 1950s, lost audience because a lead actor was a gay activist. And bad filmmaking turns off Christians just like everyone else. “Left Behind” movies starring Mr. Cameron appealed to eschatological certainty, for example, but the low-budget flicks couldn’t mount special effects that did justice to the Apocalypse.
So why “Fireproof”?
Christian audiences want, first, to be wanted. “Fireproof” has succeeded because it is an on-screen equivalent of an altar call. “It is authentic because it is coming from the community; it’s not just geared to the community,” said Robert Rubin, executive vice president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment…[And] Sherwood Baptist Church pastors Stephen and Alex Kendrick…hired actor Kirk Cameron, a Christian celebrity, but only after grilling him about his moral integrity. “If you’re cheating on your wife or have a problem with drugs or alcohol, they would rather not have you out there on ‘The Today Show’ promoting the movie,” explained the former sitcom star. And the Kendricks lined up Nashville-based Provident Films, whose principals used to market the “Veggie Tales” Christian kids’ films, and in turn worked with mainstream distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films to get “Fireproof” on more than 800 screens nationwide. The brothers also published “The Love Dare,” a book that is a plot device in the movie and, now a best-seller, has been adopted as a marriage-enrichment curriculum in thousands of American churches.”
On my end, yes this article is interesting, but really it’s an opportunity for me to get giddy again over my experience interviewing this teen idol crush, Kirk Cameron, last year just before the movie premiered and his memoir (“Still Growing”) was released in bookstores. Sigh.