The $7 million indie movie dramatically overperformed in its U.S. debut, coming in not far behind the big-budget ‘Tomb Raider’ reboot and beating ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and ‘Love, Simon’ in a surprise upset.
VIDEO: Spotlight on Dennis Quaid, who plays the father of Bart Millard, lead singer for the Christian band MercyMe in the indie film ‘I Can Only Imagine.’
In 2014, faith-based films made headlines at the U.S. box office, prompting pundits to declare it the “Year of the Bible.” God’s Not Dead, for example, earned $61.7 million against a $2 million budget, while Heaven is for Real soared to $91.4 million against a $12 million budget.
Film companies responded by flooding the market with faith-based titles, but the results were decidedly mixed between 2015 and 2017. God’s Not Dead 2 topped out at $20.8 million domestically in spring of 2016, 66 percent less than the first movie.
So when it came time for I Can Only Imagine to open in theaters on March 16, no one gave the the $7 million indie film — which tells the story behind the best-selling Christian song of all time — much thought. (Tracking services suggested the Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate release would come in at $2 million-$4 million.)
That is, until I Can Only Imagine dramatically overperformed in opening to $17.1 million from 1,629 theaters, upstaging the glory that was expected to have belonged to Warner Bros. and MGM’s big-budget Tomb Raider reboot, which launched to a muted $23.6 million. And I Can Only Imagine handily beat the $11.8 million opening of Fox 2000’s YA adaptation Love, Simon — the first film from a major Hollywood studio featuring a gay teen protagonist — as well as the second weekend of Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time ($16.3 million) in a surprise upset.
The good news continued on Monday. I Can Only Imagine earned an estimated $1.7 million, almost as much as Tomb Raider ($1.8 million), and not that far behind Black Panther ($2.2 million). On Friday, the movie will be playing in a total of 2,230 theaters.
“It definitely shows that if you build a good movie, this audience will come out,” says Roadside co-president Howard Cohen, noting that I Can Only Imagine is Roadside’s biggest opening in history. Roadside partnered with Lionsgate in acquiring the U.S. rights to the movie after it was completed.
The film stars J. Michael Finley as the real-life Bart Millard, the lead singer of the Christian band MercyMe who wrote “I Can Only Imagine.” The song recounts Millard’s relationship with his once-abusive father, played in the film by by Dennis Quaid, and ponders what it would be like to be in heaven standing before God. “I Can Only Imagine” was first issued as a track on MercyMe’s 1999 album, The Worship Project, then recorded for the 2001 album, Almost There.
This article continues at [Hollywood Reporter] Box Office: ‘I Can Only Imagine’ Revives Faith-Based Genre