This weekend marks the release of the sequel to 2014’s surprise faith-based hit, God’s Not Dead. The new film, creatively called God’s Not Dead 2, is expected to do well among the target demographic, but only time will tell if Pure Flix has another megahit on their hands.
Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t have written the story of the first film, because nobody would have greenlit the production.
In that story, the writers would have invented a small Christian production/acquisition/distribution company and called it Pure Flix. That company would produce two or three feature length Christian films a year that would typically go straight to the DVD rack at the local Christian bookstore, and while the company would be solvent, it wouldn’t exactly be the next Disney.
As a part of this usual routine, the small Christian production company would release a low budget movie about a student working to prove to his atheist university professor that God is not dead. But, taking advantage of the new interest in the faith-based film genre, the company would arrange a wider distribution then usual for their films, getting it released in over 700 theaters.
Of course, being a small film with no A-list actors, and being a “faith-based” film, most people wouldn’t have this movie on their radar. But, the writers of our little drama would create a massively successful grassroots marketing campaign that would cause the faith-based movie to explode out of the gate. And then, the little film with a budget of around two million dollars would go on to make over $90 million dollars, combined box office and home video sales.
And Pure Flix would live happily ever after.
Of course, if there’s one thing that is true, it’s that finding box office success is like catching lightning in a bottle. For Pure Flix, this has proven to be the case with the less than spectacular results of their follow up films, Do You Believe? ($14.5 million on a $2.3 million budget, still quite respectable, but undeniably the film was riding on God’s Not Dead‘s coattails) Faith of our Fathers ($1.3 million on an undisclosed, but probably pretty small, budget), Woodlawn ($17 million on a $25 million budget), to name a few. The company has also acquired and released several other smaller films, and has turned profits by keeping production costs low.
But the question remains: was the success of God’s Not Dead just an aberration? A fluke? A luck of the draw?
The folks at Pure Flix, in a series of pretty brilliant business moves, made the wise decision to not put all their eggs in the God’s Not Dead basket. For example, they took some of those GND profits and bought out a fledgling faith-based streaming service, turning Pure Flix into the premiere faith and family filming streaming service. Finally, the name “Pure Flix” makes some sense as a faith-based alternative to Netflix. Second, they took some more of those profits and developed their own U.S. theatrical distribution wing that would enable them to put more of the box office revenues back into the company rather than into the coffers of the traditional distributers. Also, they invested even more profits in building up their international wing, Quality Flix, in an attempt to build the reputation and potential revenue for that coveted international audience.
What they didn’t do with that money is decide to give away their ministry materials. So yes, for $22.95 you too can purchase a God’s Not Dead 2 DVD study kit. This stands in opposition to smaller faith-based films that gave away their study kits, including Captive and The Young Messiah.
Come on, Pure Flix… you can do better than that.
But I digress.
All in all, whether or not you appreciate the films released under the Pure Flix banner, you have to appreciate that they have developed a good business model.
Which brings us back to what is arguably the most anticipated film on the Pure Flix slate, God’s Not Dead 2. Box-office-wise, there are three possible outcomes of this film’s release:
1. GND2 will flop, and not earn back its budget.
This won’t happen. Although Pure Flix hasn’t released the budget of GND2, I’m guessing it’s probably around $10 million (edit: they released the budget, and it was $5 mill). GND2 would have work pretty hard to not make that back considering the fact that GND was such a hit. It also helps that GND2 will be bowing in over 2,000 screens, which is three times the number of theaters as GND. So, making back the budget is pretty much a given.
2. GND2 will repeat or surpass the success of the original.
This won’t happen. God’s Not Dead was a bonafide phenomenon, and it’s extremely difficult to replicate something like that. And considering that this film has mostly a new cast and no A-list actors, there isn’t anything new to bring in a new audience.
3. GND2 will turn a respectable profit, but nowhere near GND.
This is the most likely option, and it’s all about the timing.
GND came out in 2014 during “the year of the Christian film,” when the genre was just starting to gain traction. Since that time, we’ve seen plenty of faith-based films bomb at the box office, even with the occasional success story. GND2‘s big challenge is that a swarm of other faith-based films were released in the past six weeks (Risen, The Young Messiah, Miracles from Heaven, TV’s The Passion), and so God’s Not Dead 2 will be going up against some pretty serious faith-based film fatigue.
The faith-based film fatigue will mean that GND2 will probably not see the multiple viewings or experience the FOMO factor that we saw with GND in 2014, and those things are the keys that make a small budget genre film like this become a phenomenon.
That being said, the film will do better than most would in this climate because of franchise name-recognition.
And so, my prediction is that God’s Not Dead 2 will end its run at about $40 million. Not bad on a $5 million dollar budget.
(edit: as of April 11, the box office is just over $14 mill, so it looks like my estimate was quite high. Still, profit, but not a phenomenon like the first one.)
(edit again: now, this is interesting. The day GND2 was released, it was #4 in the box office, and #5 was another faith-based film, Miracles from Heaven. After April 1, GND2 slipped behind Miracles, and has stayed behind it every day since, even though Miracles was released three weeks earlier. So, GND2 wasn’t just not a phenomenon, but it couldn’t even beat another faith-based film that has been out three weeks. Miracles has earned over $50 mill on a $13 mill budget, btw. Source: Box Office Mojo.)
Regardless, GND2 will be financially successful, which means that in a couple of years we can expect to see God’s Not Dead 3, officially making this series the first serious theatrical faith-based film franchise.
In celebration of that fact, I’d like to suggest to Pureflix that they open up the naming of GND3 to the internet. I have to admit that my motives are not entirely pure in this suggestion, as such a competition would likely give us a film named something like God’s Not Dead 3: Boaty McBoatface.
And that would give me unending joy.
But there are some other interesting ramifications of this new Christian film franchise for Pure Flix… could it lead to the creation of a GNDCU? Just like Marvel has the MCU, could we have a whole series of spinoff films from the God’s Not Dead universe?
I can see it now – God’s Not Dead: The Martin Chronicles. In this film, Martin (the Chinese student) returns to China to prove to his strictly traditional atheist father that God is, in fact, not dead, and is surely alive, and he could take the Newsboys with him to help prove it. (Note to Pure Flix: “Newsboys” in Chinese is “新闻男孩”)
GND:TMC could be made in partnership with a Chinese film company, and could be the movie that really puts Quality Flix to work, opening the door to the company being the first faith-based entertainment company to do serious business in the soon-to-be largest film market in the world! Of course, to be accepted by Chinese censors, they’d have to take “God” out of the title, and probably most of the overt Christian language. But still, it could mean new chapter in the life of Pure Flix Entertainment LLC.
But regardless of what the long term future holds, in the short term, God’s Not Dead 2 will surely be opening in theaters this weekend, and will make plenty of money, even while being panned by most critics (my Rotten Tomatoes prediction? 18%).
But the question remains – will the movie be good? That’s a question for another blog post.
For my (somewhat snarky) review of the first God’s Not Dead 2 trailer, click here.