Over the weekend, the religious film "Heaven is for Real" performed extremely well at the box office, earning $22.5 million. It's the largest Easter opening for a faith-based film, blowing past Johnny Depp's "Transcendence."
It's also the fourth recent Christian film that has taken off at theaters, following "Son of God," "God's Not Dead," and Darren Aronofsky's "Noah."
The success of the genre has spurred discussions about a Bible boom at the box office and whether 2014 is the year of the Christian film.
But BoxOffice.com chief analyst Phil Contrino tells us we shouldn't be surprised by how well these movies are performing.
"Religious crowds are underserved, and they have been for a while now," Contrino tells Business Insider. "What you're seeing is a big section of the population that wants movies that speak directly to them with themes they can relate to. So there's no surprise that's there's this rush out."
For those who may feel like the success of Bible-based movies kind of just sprung up, Contrino says that's simply not the case. For one, 2004's wildly successful "Passion of the Christ" proved there was an interest in religious films.
That movie ended up making north of $611 million worldwide. (It was made on a $30 million budget.)
Not until History’s “The Bible” miniseries pulled in huge ratings last year have we seen a big push again from Hollywood to target a religious demographic in theaters. In fact, "Son of God" — one of the films performing well right now — also comes from Mark Burnett, who produced the successful History series.
So far, "Noah" has made $301.3 million at the box office — far from the earnings of "Passion.”
While some of that film’s performance may be attributed to the controversy sparked about the movie deviating from the Bible, Contrino says the film may have wanted to please too big of a general crowd while turning away its initial demographic.
"If you’re going to make something aimed at religious crowds just go the whole way — aim it at religious crowds without the secular moviegoing population, because the reality is there’s a big enough audience globally for you to just make a film that’s aimed directly at religious people and that’s it and still succeed. It doesn’t have to be everything for everyone," he says.
Contrino says there doesn't have to be a big push for advertising with billboards and TV for these films because there are organizations that will market them to religious crowds through means such as church outreach.
"When a movie's aimed at religious crowds, you don't launch it the same way you would launch 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2,'" says Contrino.
"What you have with these movies is a grassroots campaign that's targeted specifically at this group and reaching out to churches and making sure they get into theaters,” he adds. “That's another component to the profitability because they don't have to do the big ad spend necessarily that other studio pictures do."
Forbes' Dorothy Pomerantz likened the success of faith-based movies to low-budget horror films that take off at theaters, something which Contrino says makes sense on a business level.
"There are quite a bit of similarities because they both go after a niche that's very supportive and who's going to show up opening weekend," says Contrino.
While some suggest this may be the year of the Christian film, Contrino predicts this is just the beginning.
"2014 will be just the tip of the iceberg," says Contrino. "We'll see a lot more movies aimed at this crowd over the next several years.
"The potential is still kind of untapped," he adds. "'Passion of the Christ' proved if you really connect with the religious crowd in a significant way, there's a lot of money to be made at the box office."
See Also:15 Movies You Should See This SummerLow-Budget Religious Movie ‘Heaven Is For Real’ Crushed It At The Box Office'Transcendence' Is Johnny Depp's Fourth Box-Office Bomb In A Row
SEE ALSO: "Heaven is for Real" crushed it at the box office opening weekend
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