'Fireproof' Shows Christian Movies Sell

You can almost picture the Hollywood studio execs scratching their heads.

A film that was made for $500,000, relied more on word of mouth than television and print ads, and is headlined by an actor best known for a 1980s television show, opens at No. 4 in the country and rakes in $6.8 million in ticket sales.

"Where did this come from? We didn't see this on the radar," actor Kirk Cameron imagined the execs saying. "What is 'Fireproof?'"

After this week, few will be left wondering. The Christian-themed film, which stars Cameron as a firefighter whose marriage is on the rocks, is the latest aimed at the 80-million strong evangelical audience. And, like the instant popularity of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, it's a sign that the strength of the evangelical community has not waned.

"We just smiled," Cameron, the former "Growing Pains" star, told ABCNews.com, referring to himself and the filmmakers. "We knew that no one would expect it to do well."

The film exceeded even the filmmakers' expectations. They were hoping to make $3 million or $4 million and crack the top 10 when the film opened last weekend. Instead, they topped the Coen Brothers' "Burn After Reading," with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, in its third week, and Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna," which made only $3.5 million in its opening weekend.

Even more impressive, "Fireproof" opened on only 839 screens, which makes its per screen average of $8,100 second only to last weekend's No. 1 movie, Shia LaBeouf's critically panned "Eagle Eye," which was in 3,500 theaters.

"That's reason to praise God," said Alex Kendrick, the director of "Fireproof."

Kendrick co-wrote the script with his younger brother Stephen, who also produced the film. Together, they've made three films and have become known as the "Christian Coen Brothers."

"We tried to make a movie that speaks to your middle-American family and couple facing all the common issues in marriage," Alex Kendrick said. "Hollywood is good at reflecting the values and lifestyles of people in California and New York. But there are so many of us who have a standard of morality and faith that is rarely reflected in films coming out of Hollywood."

For the Kendricks, "Fireproof" is more than a film, it's a mission. The brothers are ministers at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. Their production company, Sherwood Pictures, is actually a ministry of the 3,000-member church. And all profits from the film are funneled back into the church.

"Some people are out there to win an Oscar, and we're looking to win people's hearts," said Jim McBride, the church's executive pastor and executive producer of "Fireproof."

"We're in this for the ministry aspect of it."

It all started when Kendrick, who grew up making films with a bulky camcorder in his backyard, was hired as an associate minister at the church. Michael Catt, the senior pastor, who had a vision of reaching the world from Albany, asked Alex what he'd like to be doing in five years.

"I told him I hoped to make my first Christian film but I didn't know if it was possible at a church," Kendrick said. "He said, 'Why not?'"

In 2002, church members raised $20,000 and volunteered to work behind and act in front of the camera, so that Kendrick could make "Flywheel." Shown on DVD at a local theater, it stayed on screen for six weeks and was Albany's second highest grossing film.

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