- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2014

Even A-lister Johnny Depp is no match for this year’s juggernaut of faith-based films, as the movie “Heaven is for Real” outearned the Hollywood star and ended Easter weekend as the country’s third most popular film.

Based on the best-selling book about a child’s near-death experience, “Heaven” brought in $21.5 million in its opening weekend, outpacing the futuristic “Transcendence,” starring Mr. Depp, a margin of $10 million.

The film’s success made it the third religiously-themed film in the current U.S. box office top 10, supporting analysts who say that these films are here to stay.

“I think we’re going to see more films like this: See more stars, producers, writers, and directors wanting to be part of these types of movies,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak, which measures television and movie viewing statistics. “As more and more audiences flock to these movies, we see an acceptance of these films as part of the make-up every year. They’ve broken through the barrier.”

The weekend’s top draw, according to numbers from Box Office Mojo, a website that compiles ticket sales, was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” In its third week, the comic book hero brought in $26.6 million. “Rio 2,” an animated sequel about the adventures of a bird, came in second with $22.5 million in its second week.

“Son of God,” the follow-up to the unexpectedly successful “The Bible” TV miniseries, was produced for $22 million and has earned nearly $60 million since its debut in late February. “Gods Not Dead,” a low-budget independent film, opened in only 800 theaters in late March but made more than $8 million in its opening weekend. Earnings so far have totaled $48 million and it anchors the top 10 movies in the nation. “Noah,” a big-budget epic starring Russell Crowe, has raked in more than $93 million since it opened at the end of March and is ninth at the domestic box office.

SEE ALSO: Younger generations lead move as Americans lose faith in the Bible, poll shows

“In a year when religious movies are doing quite well, it’s a trend that’s coming back,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “If there’s one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s mimicking success.”

“Exodus,” a big-budget movie starring Christian Bale, is scheduled to hit theaters in December. A biopic about Mother Teresa also is in the works, as is “Mary, Mother of Christ,” which is set for next year, according to Internet Movie Database.

When actors like Mr. Bale, Russell Crowe or Greg Kinnear — who stars in “Heaven is for Real” — are signing up for these types of films, that is a signal to Hollywood that faith-based movies “represent a very viable and lucrative genre,” Mr. Dergarabedian said.

“The Bible is one of the most cinematic writings ever,” Mr. Dergarabedian said. “There’s so much terrific material for cinematic big screen treatment. ‘Noah’ is an epic adventure. ‘Heaven is for Real’ is a personal drama. They all straddle different genres. They can be looked at as different types of movies, rather than being pigeonholed.”

He added, “It all comes down to dollars and cents. It looks like the faith-based audience is voting with their dollars. Hollywood cannot ignore that.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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