Christian-themed movies have recently taken Hollywood by storm. From I Can Only Imagine starring Dennis Quaid to the soon-to-be-released Paul, Apostle of Christ starring Jim Caviezel, the often-mocked Christian film genre has been upping the ante on acting talent and production quality—and thus far, the investment seems to be paying off.
I Can Only Imagine, a movie based off of the Christian hit song by the same name, debuted this weekend and totally crushed expectations at the box office. While it was estimated to take in anywhere from $2 to $8 million, the film instead raked in approximately $15 million across 1,629 locations in its opening weekend, according to Variety.
Starring Dennis Quaid and J. Michael Finley, the plot tells the story behind MercyMe’s record-setting hit song that was a favorite on Christian and secular charts alike. In fact, it’s been cited as the “most played song in Christian music history.”
Finley plays songwriter Bart Millard, and Quaid plays Millard’s abusive dad. It’s a “behind the music”-style story that has left viewers even more inspired by the record-breaking song than they already are.
But even Millard never could have anticipated the impact his 1999 hit song would have nearly two decades later.
“I knew it was special to me but had no idea about anything it was going to do,” said Millard. “It changed our career forever.”
He shared that while a few minor details of the movie were changed as it applies to his real-life story, it’s “about as close as you can get putting 25 years of your life into an hour and 55 minutes.”
“I didn’t want it to be a kinda fluffy, faith-based film if you will,” he shared with Faithwire, of the film that depicts his abusive father who later found salvation in Jesus. “I knew we were onto something when with the Erwins we had a conversation that was like ‘we’ve got to make sure it’s not R-rated.’ You can’t appreciate the redemption story without knowing how much of a monster he was.”
While many were unsure if a song could really have enough depth to be expanded into a movie, the blockbuster budgeted at only $7 million far exceeded expectations.
“I was skeptical,” a Christian film reviewer from Plugged In admitted. “I was skeptical that a movie based on a song could work—no matter how great that song was. But I’ll admit it: I was wrong. There’s more to I Can Only Imagine than I had been able to imagine.”
“Poetic license aside, so much of Millard’s story is simultaneously relatable and optimistic that the movie works for the same reason the song does,” wrote Variety’s Peter Debruge. “It lightens the burden of the pain people are shouldering today, and gives them something to look forward to.”
Perhaps the idea that a 4-minute song could be expanded into a story spanning two hours of film-time isn’t so surprising, given the lifetime of experiences that enriched its meaning.
As actress Nicole DuPort tells Bart’s character in the movie: “You didn’t write this song in 10 minutes. It took a lifetime.”
Check out the I Can Only Imagine trailer below, and be sure to check it out in theaters now!