April 11, 2011
'Soul Surfer' Catches a Box Office Wave
New faith-based film finishes in top five with a strong per-theater average
Soul Surfer, the inspirational true-story movie about surfer Bethany Hamilton, exceeded studio expectations by pulling in $11.1 million over the weekend -- good enough for fourth place overall at the box office, but finishing first in the per-theater average ($5,014, compared to $3,848 for Arthur, $4,861 for Hanna, and $3,438 for Your Highness) among new releases.
“We’re thrilled with the response," said Rich Peluso, vice president of Affirm Films, a branch of Sony Entertainment, the film's distributor. Peluso noted that a rare A+ CinemaScore, strong exit polling (96% rating the film Excellent or Very Good, 92% saying they will recommend it), and strong Facebook and Twitter activity all point "to a strong and long theatrical run. What’s most exciting about all this is that the inspirational message of Bethany’s life and faith is impacting people all across North America, and we’re looking forward to expanding the release in other territories in the coming weeks and months.”
Blogging for the WSJ's Speakeasy, Anthony Kaufman said the film "exceeded expectations" and is "poised to go the distance in the marketplace." Kaufman's story also noted that the promotional team behind Soul Surfer had done a good job reaching out to Christian opinion leaders and church groups, while also trying to make it "a crossover film" and to "achieve a balance and not to make it seem like only a faith movie," according to Berney. "I think it was effective. Given the Cinemascore and exit polls, we think it’ll hang around for a long time.”
Deadline.com analyst Nikki Finke wrote that an exec from distributor Sony had said, "If we do $10 million this weekend (or close to it), it would be a home run for Sony and FilmDistrict." Finke went on to write: "Mission accomplished. A strong Christian message sometimes works at the box office, sometimes falls flat. This one worked, helped by the strong appeal and personal promotion of American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. Soul Surfer played incredibly well all around the country as Sony had been screening the title aggressively -- 350 previews -- especially for church groups who arranged for buses to bring in audiences all day Friday.
"The film was marketed extremely well by FilmDistrict by emphasizing the upbeat, positive message although not overtly its religious undertones even though Soul Surfer is the only mainstream movie with a faith-based message during the Easter holidays. Key targets were tweens, teens and moms, and the film tracked well with these groups, and direct engagement was made with Underwood’s fan base, extreme sports enthusiasts and athletes who had overcome personal obstacles."
Box Office Mojo analyst Brandon Gray noted that Soul Surfer's opening "was solid considering that surfing movies tend to wipe out. It was enough to land within the average range of inspirational sports dramas. Distributor Sony Pictures' research showed that 80 percent of the audience was female and 56 percent was under 25 years old."