ALBANY, GA -- Thanks to sold-out theaters from coast to coast, Sherwood Baptist Church once again shocked Hollywood over the weekend when its latest film "Courageous" finished No. 4 in total gross, No. 1 among new movies and No. 1 in per-theater average, nearly doubling most of the competition in that category.
Its $9,063,147 ended up fourth behind "Dolphin Tale," Moneyball" and "The Lion King 3D." But all three of those other films -- and every other film in the Top 10 -- played in at least 2,300 theaters, significantly more than Courageous, which opened in only 1,161 theaters and still beat three new films with much bigger budgets and far more screens -- "50/50," "Dream House" and "What's Your Number?" While Courageous' production budget was $1 million, the average budget of the other films in the Top 10 was $41 million.
Courageous' per-theater average of $7,806 blew out the competition, with The Lion King 3D's $4,537 coming in second. Courageous follows the story of five men -- four of them police officers -- as they seek to become better fathers.
"I woke up this morning just praising the Lord," Stephen Kendrick, Courageous' producer, told Baptist Press Monday.
More than 1 million people saw it on opening weekend.
Perhaps most impressive, Courageous received an A+ CinemaScore, an exit poll of moviegoers used by studios. Only three other films this year have received an A+, said Kris Fuhr, vice president of theatrical marketing for Provident Films, which helped market the movie to the Christian audience.
Sherwood's most recent film, "Fireproof," opened in 2008 in 839 theaters and grossed $6.8 million on opening weekend for a No. 4 finish. Fireproof's per-theater average was slightly better than Courageous at $8,148. That higher per-theater figure could be attributed to the fact Courageous opened in more markets and stretched itself slightly out of its strongest base.
"We were in a lot of places that we've never been before, because churches and people stepped up and showed us there was a strong demand," Fuhr said.
Still, there were reports of sold-out theaters in places far outside the Bible Belt. Fresno, Calif.; Concord, N.H., and Winnipeg, Manitoba all had sellouts. There were even sold-out shows in Essex Junction, Vt., where the theater owner said it was the "biggest opening they've ever had," Fuhr said.
"The theater owner said if it had been any bigger he couldn't have managed it," Fuhr said.
The film's box office success caught the attention of mainstream publications. USA Today called it "the surprise success" of the weekend's new films. Entertainment Weekly said it was the "real success story of the weekend."
"We were asking the Lord to do something that would surprise everyone and create buzz," Kendrick said. "With every movie, He's done more than we could ask or imagine. There's been a lot of good news in the last three days."
Fuhr said Courageous eventually will open in more theaters, possibly in its fourth weekend.