Good God! Faith-Based ‘War Room’ Tops ‘Straight Outta Compton’ at Friday Box Office

The critically roasted drama debuts at No. 1. Owen Wilson’s “No Escape” battles for third and Zac Efron’s “We Are Your Friends” won’t make the top ten

True believers turned out in droves Friday to power “War Room,” the faith-based drama that was eviscerated by critics, and it was running neck-and-neck with two-time champ “Straight Outta Compton” for the weekend box office crown.

“War Room” debuted at No. 1 with an estimated $3.87 million, just ahead of the $3.83 million of Universal’s rap saga on Friday, and was heading for $10.5 million over the three days for Sony’s Tristar.” But Universal’s “Straight Outta Compton” is expected to pull ahead and take the weekend with $12 million when the Saturday night crowds turn out.

Powered by a grassroots campaign that mobilized churchgoers nationwide, “War Room” easily finished ahead of the weekend’s other two wide openers Friday. “No Escape,” the R-rated thriller starring Owen Wilson and Pierce Brosnan that debuted Wednesday, took in $2.4 million for the Weinstein Company. It was battling Tom Cruise‘s”Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” for third, and both should be at around $8 million by Sunday.

Zac Efron‘s electronic dance movie “We Are Your Friends,” was a niche play by Warner Bros. It gyrated to just $725,000 Friday and is looking at less than $2 million for the weekend.

It won’t be a miracle if “Compton” is beaten out by “War Room,” which stars T.C. Stallings and New York Times best-selling Christian author Priscilla Shirer as a middle-aged couple struggling in their marriage until they meet a stranger (Karen Abercrombie) points out the power of prayer.

Christian-dominated audiences gave “War Room,” which has a mainly African-American cast and was produced, directed and co-written by Alex Kendrick, an “A+” CinemaScore. That was much better than critics, who had it at a crummy 18 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes. And “War Room” averaged $3,405 from its 1,135 theaters, more than double the per-screen average of the R-rated N.WA biopic, which fell out of the top spot for the first time since opening on Aug. 14.

If it does hit $10 million, “War Room” will double the projections of analysts, triple its $3 million production budget and be the top opening for a Christian-angled film this year. It’s a feather in the cap of Affirm Films, Sony’s label for religion-inspired releases, and another triumph for Alex Kendrick and his brother Stephen, who have emerged as the most commercially successful independent producers of faith-based movies.

The Georgia-based duo’s last three previous movies — 2006’s “Facing the Giants,” 2008’s “Fireproof,” which was the highest-grossing indie that year, and 2011’s “Courageous” — have taken in $87 million at the box office on a combined budget of $2.6 million.

“War Room” is the first release from Kendrick Brothers Productions, their own label, rather than via the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., which has turned profits from three successful features into a new recreation center and expanded ministries.

No one at Warner Bros. was crowing over the limp debut of Efron’s “We Are Your Friends,” but no one was crying, either. Its projected three-day total is less than half what analysts has forecast, but roughly equal to what the studio paid for the domestic rights to the Studio Canal film.