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Did Christians Fail ‘Father Stu’ … or Vice Versa?

Mark Wahlberg’s faith-based drama underwhelms at U.S. box office

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.” 

FATHER STU - Official Trailer (HD)

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, 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.

RELATED: Here’s How Mark Wahlberg Outsmarted Cancel Culture

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.

Airey agrees.

“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.


  1. It’s a lovely film and eventually it did decent business. Not as much as it deserved, but then again in a normal day and age this film would get an autumn awards-season release and play a major part in the Oscars. So, I guess this is how it is. It’s box office run eventually ended up around the same figures like obviously a lot pricier AMBULANCE by Michael Bay. So, overall, I’m happy how it worked out.

  2. I think it was inspirational that Marc championed this biopic, and even invested some of his own funds, plus I think it is a Bonafide success! I think people and film critics that label it a failure, are way too negative, and maybe even Jealous!!!!! I salute Marc and pray he will champion other God centered storeis! Why can’ t we all start rebooting our minds and spirits to be encouraging to each other, it is critical to heal this broken, TOXIC world!!!! Thank you and pray you all start weeding your minds of negative thoughts!!!!!

  3. I think it’s true that Christians are just looking for movies that are not agenda-driven even if the agenda is to spread the Christian faith. Movie makers seem to forget that movies are a form of escapism. People want to forget about their lives for a couple of hours.

    My own reasons person reasons for skipping Father Stu:
    1. Mark Wahlberg is not an actor I enjoy watching. I can tolerate him at best. His presence takes me out of every movie and I do not consider him a good actor. He never disappears into his roles. His appearance in Transformers
    2. Due to Walberg’s history with low-brow comedy schlock I had no reason to believe that this movie would fully commit to being a good drama or a sincere Christian movie.

    I’m surprised that Mel Gibson’s baggage is mentioned but not Mark Wahlberg who committed actual physical hate crimes. He tried to get a presidential pardon for them in 2016 but backed down when public opinion soured. This tells me he is not sorry, he only cares about the health of his “brand.” Note that I didn’t list this as a major reason for skipping the movie; I am not his judge. I formed my opinion about his acting long before I discovered his past.

  4. I really wanted to see this film; and I didn’t care about the language. The problem was timing, especially since the target audience was Catholics, even moreso than Evangelicals. Had the film been released a few weeks prior, it would most definitely had been a bigger hit. But its target audience was preoccupied with the festivities that correspond with Holy Week, including Holy Thursday (where there was a significant dip), and from Good Friday throughout Easter, where movie-going just doesn’t feel appropriate.

    The trailers made it seem like a perfect movie to watch for Lent. Had it been released even a week earlier, I would’ve found the time to go see it.

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