By James Pouliot
---- — SALISBURY — “God’s Not Dead,” an Evangelical Christian film released in March by Pure Flix Productions, reached its peak distribution last week, topping out at 1,800 theaters internationally, with showings in Brazil, Ecuador, Canada and several South American countries.
The film was nearing $50 million gross as it began to leave theaters this weekend, according to Salisbury resident Tom Saab, who serves as an executive producer for Pure Flix.
“It’s incredible,” Saab said. “People are coming out of the theater crying, cheering after the movie.”
Despite surprising Hollywood with its commercial success, the Christian film has been near-universally panned by mainstream critics, receiving a 16 percent or “overwhelming dislike” grade on Metacritic and a mere 13 percent “freshness” on Rotten Tomatoes.
Directed by Harold Cronk, best known for “War Prayer” (2006), the film follows Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), an Evangelical college student struggling against his philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo). Professor Radisson, an atheist, insists that his students sign a paper saying “God is dead” in order to get a passing grade. Radisson hopes to skip God as a subject so that the class can move on to what he considers more important topics.
When Wheaton refuses to sign, the class is forced into a full debate about the existence of God, a debate that spurs a number of other characters to question their own ideas about Christianity and ultimately accept Wheaton’s Evangelical faith.
The film is Cronk’s first major box office success, having grossed $8.6 million on its March 21 opening weekend in 780 theaters, far above its $2 million production budget. The past four weeks have seen about 1,000 additional theaters play “God’s Not Dead,” including Salisbury’s VisionMax and Danvers’ AMC at the Liberty Tree Mall.
Saab said that the film was intended for all groups, but came from a specifically Evangelical point of view. He felt that “God’s Not Dead” and other big-budget Christian films could spread a Christian message even among viewers of other faiths.
“Let’s say that out of the millions and millions of people that saw it,” Saab said, referring to the recent blockbuster, “Noah,” “[if] only 100,000 people decide to go home and open the Bible ... If they opened it up and they started reading, who knows how God will work through that?”
But he made a distinction between what he called “faith-based” films and true “Christian” films”: While merely ‘faith-based’ films could include subtle references to God or make Christianity their central theme, a true Christian film “points to the cross of Christ” directly. “God’s Not Dead,” Saab said, is firmly in the latter category of message-oriented cinema.
God’s Not Dead can still be seen at AMC Loews in Danvers’ Liberty Tree Mall.