Faith-Based 'War Room's' Director Talks Box Office Success and "Secular Critics"

War Room Still - H 2015
David Whitlow

War Room Still - H 2015

The Christian drama vastly overperformed in its box-office debut this weekend, earning $11 million from only 1,135 theaters.

Brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick's faith-based empire is determined to convert religious-centric film doubters to believers through consistent box office success, as witnessed by War Room's $11 million debut this weekend.

Despite playing in only 1,135 theaters, War Room placed No. 2 behind Straight Outta Compton, which grossed $13.2 million from 3,142 locations.

The prayer-themed film marks the highest debut for the siblings, and their fifth collaboration after Courageous (2011), Fireproof (2008) and Facing the Giants (2006). Their first movie, Flywheel, was released on DVD in 2003. All of their projects have gone out through Sony's faith-based TriStar/Affirm label. Courageous is the brothers' highest-earning film with a lifetime gross of $34.5 million.

"The Affirm and Provident partnership with the Kendricks has been proven effective over several films now," Rich Peluso, senior vp of Sony Pictures' Affirm Films said. "They are intimately connected to faith leaders across the country and work hard to integrate themes within their movies that resound with these leaders and provide resources that allow the use of the movie as both entertainment and a useful tool to change lives and hearts."

Earning an A+ CinemaScore — the first film to do so this year since American SniperWar Room is the first of their films to feature African-Americans in the leading roles. Actor T.C. Stallings was cast following his supporting role in Courageous. War Room, made for $3.5 million, tells the story of a struggling family who searches for a solution through prayer.

"When we started writing out the plot, it occurred to us that this movie would be more powerful or passionate as told from an African-American perspective," Alex Kendrick, who directed and co-wrote each of the films, told THR. "The African-American church is more visceral, they are more expressive and there is a powerful passion to their prayers." 

Alex said that he and his brother received an extensive amount of counsel in creating the project that "was prayed over probably more than anything we've ever done."

"We wanted to be very respectful and honorable in the telling of the story," he continued. "Throughout the entire production, even the edit, we would check with those in the African-American community to give us feedback and we wanted to make sure that the story about prayer was adequately told, but it was done so in the way that would not dishonor anybody." 

When asked about their critics' negative reviews of their faith-based project, Alex said he takes them with a smile. "Some of our critics, especially the secular critics, will accuse us of preaching to the choir and accuse us of not hitting our proper audience, which is hilarious to me because we know our audience," he said. "They're not coming at it from our worldview. We get that. All of us have free will. It is a little bit of a hoot sometimes to read what they perceive even as our target audience."

Following the success of this weekend's release, the minister brothers are going to take a year off to spend time with family and friends before returning to the writers' room for their sixth film.

"We want to tell a story that is very uniting," Alex said. "If people leave with a thirst and a hunger to prayer more, then that is success for us."

War Room's debut, which was expected to open in the $5 million range, is the highest-earning faith-based debut since 2014's Heaven Is for Real, which scored a whopping $22.5 million from 2,417 theaters.