‘Heaven Is for Real’ Rides Faith-Based Wave to Big Easter Score at Box Office

'Heaven Is for Real' Rides Faith-Based Wave to Big Easter Score at Box Office

Sony's Christian drama doubles its budget, showing that bigger isn't necessarily better when it comes to inspirational movies

When it comes to faith-based movies at the box office, “Heaven Is for Real” is the latest to show that smaller may be better, at least in terms of return on investment.

The drama, based on the 2010 best-selling Christian book written by Kansas pastor Todd Burpo and conservative author Lynn Vincent, scored an Easter weekend surprise with its strong $21.5 million three-day haul, and has taken in more than $28 million since opening on Wednesday.

That's a major score for Sony and producers Joe Roth and pastor Thomas “T.D.” Jakes, who produced “Heaven Is for Real” for $12 million and more than doubled that in its first week at the box office. Directed by Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”), the film stars Greg Kinnear as a small-town pastor whose son claims to have seen heaven after a near-death experience. Kelly Reilly, Thomas Hayden Church and newcomer Connor Corum co-star.

Also read: ‘Heaven Is for Real’ Reviews: Does the Faith-Based Film Make Believers Out of Critics?

“The Christian and faith-based market has been under-served for years,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “There's clearly an appetite for movies that speak to the audience, and this year has proven that.”

It's the year's fourth faith-based movie to connect with moviegoers, coming on the heels of Paramount's Darren Aronofsky-directed faith-based Biblical epic “Noah,” the low-budget indie drama “God's Not Dead” and Mark Burnett's “Son of God.”

“God's Not Dead” is the story of a college student trying to sway his skeptical professor, with a cast that includes TV stars Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper and Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty.” The critics hated it, but the film found its Christian niche, thanks to a cleverly targeted social media campaign.

See photos: 11 of God's Biggest Hits at the Domestic Box Office (Photos)

Pure Flix Entertainment's “God's Not Dead” cost just $5 million to make and has taken in nearly $47 million since opening five weeks ago for distributor Freestyle Releasing. The critics weren't keen on the drama (13 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), but that didn't stop the film's momentum with its core audience.

“Son of God” may be an even bigger bargain. Converting the TV miniseries “The Bible,” from Burnett and wife Roma Downey, for the big screen cost less than $10 million. So far it's brought in $60 million domestically and is rolling out overseas as well.

Also read: ‘God's Not Dead’ Isn't Going Away, and Neither Are Faith-Based Films

“Noah,” the effects-laden epic starring Russell Crowe, brought in $5 million over the weekend to up its domestic total after a month in release to $93.2 million. It's taken in more than $197 million abroad, and has a worldwide total of more than $255 million. But its production budget was $125 million, and Paramount mounted a major marketing campaign behind it, so it's still not in the black.

Fox will test the holy waters with a big-budget religious epic in December, when it rolls out director Ridley Scott's “Exodus,” starring Christian Bale as Moses.