"Never leave your partner behind." Not the tagline of some politically fueled war movie or a new gritty urban cop flick. This time the tag plays on the motto of firefighters and then takes a twist. It's the twist and how it's framed that makes Fireproof, the new movie distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films that opened on September 26th in limited release, a bit different in today's box-office lineup.
Playing in only about 840 theaters, Fireproof opened at number three in box-office on it's first day of release, taking in more than 2 & 1/4 million, or about 230 grand ahead of Samuel L. Jackson's Lakeview Terrace. Lakeview Terrace would go on to take the number three slot that weekend but Fireproof would hold on as number four, just a couple of hundred grand behind. Why's any of this impressive? Fireproof is essentially a small budget Christian made and Christian produced film with a heavily Christian theme and influence. It's star, Kirk Cameron has been involved with faith based television programming for years and is an influential force for faith based themed television and film projects.
If you were watching television in the eighties you'd remember Cameron from his role as the irrepressible Mike Seaver on Growing Pains opposite Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns. The show ran from 1985 to 1992 and cemented Cameron as one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood, eclipsed perhaps only by Michael J. Fox. Cameron went on to some minor projects but by 2000 had moved toward Christian programming and the lead role as Buck Williams in the movie adaptation of the first book in the popular series Left Behind.
Left Behind had a box-office take of just over $4 million in the US on a production budget that exceeded $18 million, not a strong argument for marketing faith based movies to the masses. That has apparently changed as Fireproof enters it's third weekend of release and has seen its box-office numbers climb to $13.3 million. Put that in contrast to its production budget of just $500 thousand. That's called finding religion.
In hard times, religion prospers. That's not a knock or a slight, it's simply a fact. Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama tried to make that point during the primary season and had his words twisted into a jab at "ordinary voters". The political slant was the lie, the truth is that during hard times, economic or otherwise, people tend to fall back on their values, whether they be guns or bibles. There's nothing insulting about that, rather it's comfortingly humanistic. So has Fireproof benefitted by the good fortune of entering into public perception just as it's subject matter feels particularly reassuring. Of course it has. Does anything about that circumstance diminish it's value or story? Of course not. The story, released with this timing, just has an opportunity to fall on more receptive eyes and ears.
The narrative at the core of Fireproof is about marriage and divorce, commitment and of course, faith. Kirk Cameron plays Caleb Holt, a firefighter who, in spite of his belief in the creed "never leave your partner behind" is about to do just that in his marriage. As the impending divorce looms, Caleb's father offers his support with the caveat that Caleb postpone any move toward divorce for 40 days. In that time he simply asks his son to commit to following through on a kind of guide book called "The Love Dare". As a side note, in the real life story that has become part of the success of the film, the movie's fictional book has now actually been authored by the brothers who wrote the screenplay and as of this writing is the #8 best selling book on Amazon.com.
Any impulse to dismiss Fireproof as a Christian movie or merely a film that will appeal only to a faith driven audience would be misguided. With Hollywood's usual trepidation toward taking risks, Fireproof alone won't bring on a wave of like films to your cineplex in the coming months, but there is a trend lingering in the box-office statistics of this movie. Hard times will drive ordinary people back to their comfort zones. Entertainment in all formats will have to absorb a drop in revenue like most industries but as some subject matter will begin to feel heavy and burdened, an opportunity will open for studios, directors, writers and actors to create comforting, inspiring and positive emotions through their art.
Our guess at Moviedozer.com will be a shorter list of raunchy comedies, politically biased dramas and heavy emotional pieces next year. Instead we're betting on Hollywood reassuming it's role as an entertainer with a return to light adult comedies, uplifting emotional tales and inspiring character dramas. In short, for your next coming attractions, go take a cruise through the films that studios were releasing in the war years of the forties. Absent perhaps will be the overwhelming patriotic sentiment, but most assuredly you're about to see Hollywood's memory jolted back to remembering that people go to the movies to forget their problems, not to be reminded of them.