ANAHEIM — The director behind "I Can Only Imagine," the biggest faith-based movie of last year, has shared how the film is being used by God all over the world to bring people to Himself — even in China, where persecution remains severe.
"When a movie is a hit in America... it goes on global autopilot," Jon Erwin explained at the recent National Religious Broadcasters convention in Anaheim, California. "So all these countries around the world begin to pay you for the right to translate and distribute your movie. So it's the Gospel on for-profit autopilot."
Erwin pointed out that China actually funded the movie's translation, despite its extreme opposition to Christianity and "Western" influences on religion.
"I find it very interesting that in the same year that China actually restricted ... Christianity, they paid for 'I Can Only Imagine,'" he said. "They paid for the right to translate it and distribute it to their people. That's happened in over 100 countries around the world with our films."
Erwin explained that faith-based movies - especially those backed by an American audience - present an opportunity to spread the Gospel through the medium of film.
"What happens is, when you watch a movie in America, and you buy your ticket, and that movie becomes a hit, you're pretty much guaranteed that 10 people around the world are going to see it on your behalf because of these incredible things called output deals," he said. "And, in fact, there's a lot of places around the world where you can do more in a movie theater than you can do openly on the streets. It's incredible how far the message gets."
According to the movie's summary, "I Can Only Imagine" is the "true story that follows the life of Bart Millard, lead singer of the Christian band MercyMe, whose father died of cancer and inspires him to write the mega-hit song, 'I Can Only Imagine.' The story beautifully illustrates that nobody is ever too far from God's love - or too far from an eternal home in Heaven."
The Erwin brothers' 2018 film grossed $85 million worldwide against a production budget of $7 million, becoming the fourth highest-grossing music biopic of all-time in the United States.
Following the film success, Andy and Jon Erwin announced the formation of a production venture called "Kingdom Studios," which will work alongside Lionsgate to distribute well-produced faith-based movies into the mainstream.
The brothers have four titles currently in the works, including "I Still Believe," which will tell the story of Christian singer Jeremy Camp, who lost his wife to ovarian cancer less than a year after they married.
"We don't want to build our own name, we want to build the Kingdom," Erwin explained. "We want to tell stories that strategically brought people to the Gospel."