Hollywood can be hard to predict, but given the choice between last year's Woody Allen film, "Vicky Christina Barcelona," Sean Penn in "Milk" and a Christian film called "Fireproof," starring aging teen idol Kirk Cameron, not a single industry insider saw this dark horse coming.
"Fireproof," a Christian-themed film straight out of "Godlywood," buried them all as the top-grossing independent film of 2008.
What's the Christian film industry's next brainchild? A soon-to-be-released film called "The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry," a film about a 75-year-old man who motivates three young boys to fend off a bully by following the Lord.
Rich Christiano, the film's director, screened "The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry" to a pastor-filled crowd, hoping to get them to preach the goodness of his movie and send the faithful to the ticket counter.
Christiano's message was clear: Hollywood is corrupting America.
"Why is it we watch movies with nudity and all this stuff we know we shouldn't? I'll tell you why, because Hollywood rules, not Jesus," Christiano said to the crowd. "Pastors, I'm telling you, this is the fight, this is what's going to steal your youth group; this is what's busting up your marriages. This is the fight. I need you to stand with us."
The movie is becoming the latest weapon in a cultural war coming soon to a theater near you. Christiano, 52, describes himself as a "filmmaker with a message for the Lord."
"George Lucas supposedly said the church, which used to be all powerful, has been usurped by film. And he's right," Christiano said. "The devil knows all this, and he has used films to break down this country; it's a very powerful tool."
With the release of "The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry," Christiano is urging the church to start playing offense.
"The church normally plays defense," he said. "Hollywood does something we don't like and we react to it. I say forget about that. Quit complaining and let's go on the offense."
The film stars Gavin MacLeod, who is better known to most as Capt. Stubing from the "Love Boat." MacLeod, who turned to Christ in 1985 after a long career in Hollywood, said he "became essentially a different person."
Transitioning from Hollywood to the emerging Christian film industry, MacLeod said it's "humbling" to be "used by God" in the movie.
While the Cannes Film Festival has celebrities, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the Independent Christian Film Festival in San Antonio sports a large cash award for its top movie, which is $101,000. "The Widow's Might," a 101-minute film written and directed by 19-year-old John Moore of Kaufman, Texas, won the award in January.
As for "Fireproof," it's the story of a fireman's battle to save his marriage, and was the shot heard across Hollywood. Opening in theaters in late September, the film earned $33 million at the box office in 2008 on an almost unheard of $500,000 budget.
The film's 2008 gross revenue even beat out the Academy Award-winning "Slumdog Millionaire," which opened in mid-November.
"We were all sort of pinching ourselves and laughing and watching it as it did so well," said Cameron, star of "Fireproof" and former star of TV's "Growing Pains."