In what some have already called "The Year of the Bible," 2014 played host to another successful biblical movie that released last week. Left Behind, starring Nicolas Cage, did quite well on its opening weekend in North America.
Showing on 1,790 screens in the US and 35 in Canada, the new Left Behind film has already earned $6.3 million, which breaks down to roughly $3,452 for each screen. This makes Left Behind the number one independent film and the number three new release in the nation for last weekend.
Not to be confused with the 2000 film starring Kirk Cameron, this updated version focuses on the story of pilot Rayford Steele (Cage) and his daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson). Like the Kirk Cameron film, this version is also based on the New York Times bestselling book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, but with a slightly larger budget ($16 million versus $4 million). Despite this larger budget, producer and co-writer Paul Lalonde states that marketing was targeted towards the Christian demographic.
"We are pleased with the response the film has had from moviegoers across North America," Lalonde commented. "With a marketing budget less than one tenth of what the studios spend on the movies we're competing with, we had focused our marketing efforts toward our core Christian audience. We had a strong social presence and knew awareness in the core demo was strong. Our goal was to enlist those fans to spread the word and to bring friends and family who weren't necessarily believers. I have to give thanks to director Vic Armstrong, star Nicolas Cage and the rest of the cast and team that brought it all together so well. But most of all, I want to thank the fans for supporting this movie, and all faith-based movies, by actually buying tickets and going to the theater."
Originally set to release on only 1,200 screens in the US, the studio decided to push for almost 600 more to meet the pre-release demand.
But despite the slew of positive reviews on the movie's website, some reviewers didn't see it that way.
Rotten Tomatoes, a website that rates movies based on user feedback and is notoriously harsh on faith-based films, gives the movie a score of 2%. But what may be even more telling is the review from Christianity Today, which calls the movie "Not a Christian movie. Not even close."
"Most Christians within the world of the movie-whether the street-preacher lady at the airport or Rayford Steele's wife-are portrayed as insistent, crazy, delusional, or at the very least just really annoying," the review states. "They want churches to book whole theaters and take their congregations, want it to be a Youth Group event, want magazines like this one to publish Discussion Questions at the end of their reviews-want the system to churn away, all the while netting them cash, without ever having to have cared a shred about actual Christian belief. They want to trick you into caring about the movie. Don't. We tried to give the film zero stars, but our tech system won't allow it."
The Christian Post added its own opinion to the mix, citing that the movie is "doomed" and features "cheap special effects and a painful script."
"Looking back at its predecessors, Left Behind failed to replicate the appeal of the Kirk Cameron-starred film series of the same name," TCP's review points out. "Moreover, Left Behind is a far cry from Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins' massively popular books on which the film is based. In an obvious attempt to set up for a sequel, Left Behind focuses on just three characters, resulting in a tediously slow first 30 minutes and making way for an abrupt and nonsensical ending."
Left Behind opened across North America on October 3rd and is currently in select theaters.