Moviegoers are apparently feeling the Spirit.
Premiering last week, revival-themed “Jesus Revolution” from co-director Jon Erwin (“I Can Only Imagine”) earned $15.8 million — one of the biggest first weekends ever for a faith-based movie. “While the runaway hit is exciting, it translates to over one million people who have watched and been inspired by the movie,” said producer Kevin Downes. “That’s why we made it, and what we’re thrilled to see.”
The based-on-true-events film stars Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”) as a California pastor and Jonathan Roumie (“The Chosen”) as the hippie preacher who turns his staid southern California church upside-down. Reviews have been mixed — with most audiences loving it, while most general-market and some Christian critics note certain flaws.
Regardless, such a massive haul validates the film’s producer, Kingdom Story Company, in its premise and strategy. Kingdom Story’s Jon and Andy Erwin have long said Christian audiences are underserved and that it’s possible to get the faithful out en masse with enough effort. It’s why Hollywood studio Lionsgate inked a deal to distribute Kingdom Story films.
While “Jesus Revolution” may not ignite every believer’s soul, fear not. This year, a diversity of filmmakers are rolling out a wide selection of faith-conscious titles. Most are based on true stories, with a range of genres, including thriller, comedy, musical, and romance. Here are 10 outside-the-box faith films slated for the year ahead.
‘Wildcat’ (biopic, fall)
The works of Flannery O’Connor loom large among the faithful in America, despite the Catholic writer being plagued by lupus and dying in 1964 at the age of 39. Now writer-director-star Ethan Hawke (“Gattaca”) is bringing her story to the big screen in “Wildcat,” a biopic that will reveal struggles the young woman from Georgia encountered in publishing her first book and what influenced her focus on the downtrodden in society.
Hawke has assembled a standout cast, notably led by his daughter, Maya Hawke (“Little Women,” “Stranger Things”), who will play the young writer. Others include Oscar nominee Laura Linney (“The Truman Show”), Philip Ettinger (“First Reformed”), Steve Zahn (“Sahara”), and Vincent D’Onofrio (“Daredevil”). Considering recent major media attempts to “cancel” O’Connor’s legacy, this dramatic take on her life could be a discussion starter the nation needs.
‘The Thorn’ (musical stage show, March 6)
Influenced by Cirque du Soleil productions, “The Thorn” presents the ministry and Passion of Jesus in a musical drama of dance movements, acrobatics, and pyrotechnics. The immersive and fast-paced stage show, which has evolved over the past 25 years and hundreds of performances, brings significant Gospel scenes to life through the eyes of characters who draw viewers into the narrative.
Featuring a mix of Broadway performers and some dancers who have trained at the Joffrey Ballet School, this limited theatrical engagement also previews a live Easter-season show currently touring performing arts centers in 10 cities across the heartland.
‘On a Wing and a Prayer’ (biopic/thriller, PG, April 7)
Following his star turn in “Blue Miracle” — a Netflix original movie recognized as the best inspirational film of 2021 — Dennis Quaid’s next story of faith and survival comes in a harrowing true story from director Sean McNamara (“Soul Surfer”) and executive producer Roma Downey (“The Bible”). Onboard a small plane with his family over the Gulf Coast, Doug White (Quaid) must determine what to do when their pilot dies mid-flight.
‘Roll with It’ (family comedy, G, May 9)
Beloved for decades, Emmy-nominated comedienne Chonda Pierce teams up with writer-director Chris Dowling (“Blue Miracle”) and producer Ken Carpenter (“The World We Make”) for heartwarming comedy “Roll with It,” which last fall won the audience award at the Dallas International Film Festival.
Count on a heavy dose of Jeff Foxworthy-style humor — playing up generational differences and urban versus rural life — as Pierce’s character, a waitress in small-town Tennessee, deals with a series of setbacks, including a bank seeking to repossess her home. When a local karaoke competition offers thousands in prize money, she plans to strut her stuff to secure the stash. Like all good comedies, things don’t go quite as expected.
Untitled Nativity Film (musical, Nov. 10)
Movie musicals are on the upswing, with eccentric chocolate-factory prequel “Wonka” and blockbuster stage adaptation “Wicked” coming over the next year. The team behind “A Week Away,” a tongue-in-cheek camp romp featuring Christian music hits, is back with a big-budget musical currently filming in Spain and depicting biblical Nativity events.
Following Mary (Fiona Palomo from “Outer Banks”) and Joseph (Milo Manheim) as they travel to Bethlehem, this currently untitled film also features Antonio Banderas (“The Mask of Zorro”) as King Herod, Joel Smallbone from Christian music group For King and Country as Herod’s son, rap artist Lecrae as the angel Gabriel, and pop singer MŌRIAH in a role not yet announced. With a wide release planned by Sony’s Affirm Films, this will be one to watch.
Five Honorable Mentions
As film distribution continues to be in flux — with theatrical versus streaming release often not decided until months before release — a preview of the year ahead has some question marks. Only one in this category, “Big George Foreman,” a PG biopic of the heavyweight champion’s life opening in theaters on April 28, has been dated.
Starring Zachary Levi (“Shazam!”) and Patricia Heaton (“The Middle”), “The Unbreakable Boy” finds joy in a resilient child’s grappling with a rare disease. The dramatic journey of Ming Wang from impoverished immigrant to renowned eye surgeon comes to life in “Sight,” a biopic starring Terry Chen (“Almost Famous”) as Wang and Greg Kinnear (“Flash of Genius”).
In “Unsung Hero,” the musical family of contemporary Christian music star Rebecca St. James will dramatize their journey from Australia to sold-out arena concerts in the U.S. “Surprised By Oxford,” filmed at the famed university in the United Kingdom, recounts a tempestuous romance with themes of trust and discovery. Look for more coverage of these inspirational films as release plans are finalized.