What was the highest-grossing independent film of 2008?
"Milk?" "Slumdog Millionaire?" Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona?"
How about a Christian-themed movie called "Fireproof?"
If you're surprised, the idea that ABC's "Nightline" would not only point this out, but also do a segment on Friday evening dealing with the rise in faith-based films from what they referred to as "Godlywood" might be even more shocking (quotes from article at ABCNews.com follow, video of segment available here):
Hollywood can be hard to predict, but given the choice between last year's Woody Allen film, "Vicky Christina Barcelona," Sean Penn in "Milk" and a Christian film called "Fireproof," starring aging teen idol Kirk Cameron, not a single industry insider saw this dark horse coming.
While the Cannes Film Festival has celebrities, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the Independent Christian Film Festival in San Antonio sports a large cash award for its top movie, which is $101,000. "The Widow's Might," a 101-minute film written and directed by 19-year-old John Moore of Kaufman, Texas, won the award in January. As for "Fireproof," it's the story of a fireman's battle to save his marriage, and was the shot heard across Hollywood. Opening in theaters in late September, the film earned $33 million at the box office in 2008 on an almost unheard of $500,000 budget.
The film's 2008 gross revenue even beat out the Academy Award-winning "Slumdog Millionaire," which opened in mid-November.
"We were all sort of pinching ourselves and laughing and watching it as it did so well," said Cameron, star of "Fireproof" and former star of TV's "Growing Pains."
While the box office profits speak for themselves, the making of "Fireproof" is a story in its own right.
The film was written and directed on a shoestring budget by the brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who are pastors in Albany, Ga. Other than Cameron, the entire cast was made up of church members -- and everyone worked for free. The Kendrick brothers say God told them to make the movie.
Apparently, more faith-based films are on the horizon:
Whatever the content, Hollywood likes a winner. The Samuel Goldwyn film company, more accustomed to big stars like Russell Crowe and Julia Roberts, is the first major studio to embrace Christian films. "Fireproof," then a dark horse, was their release in collaboration with Christian film company Provident Films, and the genre of Christian film is on the horizon.
"It's an underserved audience," said Meyer Gottlieb of Samuel Goldwyn Films. "You know, you can say Christian or faith, that Hollywood is not serving that audience the level it should be serving it, and it's a huge audience. So, I think there are great opportunities, and I'd like to release one or two Christian films a year, or faith-based films a year."
Kudos to ABC for this segment.