Mark Wahlberg’s passion project didn’t light a fire under movie goers.
“Father Stu,” based on a touching true story, generated $6 million over the holiday weekend, bringing its total to $8.5 million to date. The film debuted behind “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” “The Lost City” and “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
That’s after both Wahlberg and co-star Mel Gibson made the media rounds to promote the film during a very holy time of the year for Christians.
That group, which rarely gets mainstream movies aimed at them, didn’t show up en masse. Did they fail a movie designed to speak to their beliefs? Or are other factors in play?
Jacob Airey, pop culture pundit and founder of StudioJakeMedia.com, says the fiim’s timing, which seemed strong on paper, may have worked against it.
“Christians typically avoid the movies for the holidays,” says Airey, a Christian pop culture observer and author of “The Seven Royals” fantasy series.
Christians often judge “Christian” movies more harshly than other titles, he adds.
Film blogger Sarah Hargett says the film’s modest start could convince Sony and other studios to shy away from similar fare. The fact that “Father Stu” exists, though, boiled down to Wahlberg’s commitment to the material.
The Oscar nominee poured some of his own cash into the project.
“He had a passion for a story that maybe wasn’t mainstream marketable in the first place, but he wanted to tell it, so he did,” Hargett says, adding that can be the difference between a greenlit story and once that remains in limbo. “In that sense, no, I think that filmmakers who find a story they love and want to tell won’t be dissuaded by the idea that it may not be a box office hit.”
Conservatives and Christians bemoan the lack of content aimed at their respective communities. On that level, “Father Stu” feels like a missed opportunity, at least looking at the bottom line.
Hargett isn’t convinced.
“Within my personal community of fellow believers and fellow conservatives, there isn’t an interest in movies that cater to our beliefs. What I see is people who just want to see good movies—artful movies—that aren’t tainted by Hollywood’s woke agenda,” she says. “I’d rather see movies with no agenda at all. And I’d love to see them come from Christian filmmakers.”
“Father Stu,” she adds, missed what audiences crave in the modern marketplace.
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Freelance reporter Josh M. Shepherd, who covers faith and family entertainment for The Federalist, didn’t see those box office numbers as weak given current trends. The film’s R-rating, though, clearly kept some Christians at home.
“I’ve spoken to numerous people in the Bible Belt who didn’t recommend ‘Father Stu’ because of the amount of coarse language in it,” Shepherd says. The film embraced that rating to capture Stuart Long’s transformation from ne’er do well to a man of the cloth.
“Christians tend to watch rated R films in private. They do not want to so publicly support a movie that has course foul language, etc., even if the story is one that has their values in theory,” Airey says.
Shepherd notes that “Father Stu” debuted with two strikes against it – the coarse language and Gibson’s personal baggage. The “Lethal Weapon” star’s meltdowns, including an infamous anti-Semitic rant, date back to 2006.
Some audiences will never forgive Gibson for those moments, even though Hollywood slowly accepted him back into their community.
The future may be brighter for the film once it leaves theaters for good, Shepherd predicts.
“’Father Stu’ will do really well when it lands on Netflix later this year, no doubt,” he says.