It's shaping up to be a year in which Hollywood finds religion, and the latest example, "God's Not Dead," a small Christian-themed drama, delivered that message powerfully at the box office.
The film, which opened on just 780 screens nationwide, took in more than $2.8 million Friday. It's likely to be the No. 3 movie for the weekend, behind the bigger-budget, wider-released "Divergent" and "Muppets Most Wanted."
Released through Freestyle Releasing, the drama from the Christian movie studio Pure Flix Entertainment and the Red Entertainment Group was heavily marketed in churches, on the film's website and other Christian websites, as well as social media.
Though "God's Not Dead" was not made available for review prior to opening, the film's website has numerous endorsements, including praise from Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne, Olympic gold medalist platform diver David Boudia and former New York Yankee pitching great Andy Pettitte.
Directed by Harold Cronk ("The Adventures of Mickey Matson and the Copperhead Treasure"), "God's Not Dead" revolves around a Christian college student (Shane Harper) who finds his faith challenged by a philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo of "Hercules" fame) who believes God doesn't exist. The film also stars Dean Cain of "The Adventures of Lois and Clark" and even features appearances by Willie and Korie Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" fame, who play themselves in one scene.
"God's Not Dead" wasn't the only religious film in the box office top 10. "Son of God," which opened Feb. 28, made an estimated $660,000 Friday on 2,129 screens for a total so far of $53.6 million.
On Friday comes the big budget ($130-million) and potentially controversial Darren Aronfsky take on a biblical tale. "Noah" stars Russell Crowe as the biblical arc builder, and has already come under scrutiny by some fundamentalist groups for Aronofsky's interpretation of the story.
Then on April 16, the film "Heaven Is for Real," arrives in theaters. It's based on the 2010 book by Pastor Todd Burpo and Lynn Stanley, and directed by Randall Wallace, who is best known for his films with Mel Gibson ("Braveheart," "We Were Soldiers").
Other upcoming movies with biblical and religious themes include Ridley Scott's "Exodus," "Last Days in the Desert" and "Mary."